Manila Bulletin

Kate Alvarez: Healing by helping

- By STEF JUAN (Photo by Vincent Patrick Chan)

Kate Alvarez, mental health advocate, is a writer, a model, and an actress, too. She was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.

Recognizin­g the need to reach out to countless people who are going through the same things that she did, Kate put up a private Facebook group, SOS Philippine­s (Survivors of Suicide), and from a small group of grieving families who have lost a loved one to suicide, it has grown to include people who are suffering from depression and bipolar disorder who needed a community too.

Kate was first diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder in 2011, after years of trying to treat what she and her doctor had thought to be stress-induced asthma. After a year, she managed her anxiety well enough to start weaning off her medication.

Then tragedy struck. “I lost a loved one to suicide,” Kate said.

Back then, she knew nothing about clinical depression or about the facts and fallacies about suicide. She couldn’t yet tell that there is a difference between sadness –the feeling –and depression –the sickness. Months later, she was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.

That was the beginning of Kate’s journey in bringing the issue of Mental Health (MH) to light and starting a conversati­on that would help others who are suffering from mental health issues like her.

After her diagnosis, Kate felt alone and often misunderst­ood by well-meaning (but clueless about mental health) friends and family. She connected with people from the mental health community like the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation. “For the first time, I felt understood,” she said.“I started learning more about depression, bipolar disorder, and other facets of mental health. I started understand­ing what suicidal people went through, and what I was also going through at that time.”

“For the last six years, my journey helped me process my grief, understand my own depression, and eventually heal. It has also helped me help others,” Kate shared.

There’s still a lot to be done though. Despite major strides in bringing awareness on mental health, there is still a stigma connected to depression — even while faced with scientific facts and medical evidence, it’s still often hard for people to understand that it’s not “drama” and it can’t be “prayed away” or “shaken off.” But despite the challenges, Kate keeps on going. “My own battle keeps me going,” she said. "After six years, I'm finally weaning off meds this nyear," she shared. "I'm at the best state I've ever been since 2012. I'm aware that triggers can make me spiral down to darkness again, but... I am equipped to battle my relapses."

From her own experience, Kate recognizes the need to talk more about mental health; take away the shame having depression, bipolar disorder, schizophre­nia, and other conditions because they are medical issues that have to be treated and diagnosed, like heart diseases. cancer, and diabetes. The more mental health is discussed, the more we can help the people who have been suffering in silence for a long time.

She has built for herself a career as a writer, model, and actress. For more informatio­n on mental health and depression, Kate has compiled a list of links to articles, resources, and organizati­ons at her website: http://katewasher­ mentalheal­thph/.

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