There are 16 important days observed by the United Nations (UN) for October every year and likewise given importance by countries, worldwide.
The UN designated days and weeks every month that promotes awareness and action on specific issues, each with a topic or theme, further encouraging all nations to pursue and develop indigenous ways to address these issues.
Hundreds of workers, worldwide, toil alongside the UN to bring about a better perspective to such demanding issues needing attention in the context of each nation’s specific demand and necessity.
Philippines, a UN member, diligently observes important UN days. Many Filipinos, either volunteers and those paid by UN, work in tandem with employees from the national government agencies as the backbone in implementing programs as well as information, education and communication (IEC) for UN calendar days in the country.
Among the 16 important UN days of October is World Mental Health Day.
So it was that October 10, last year, at around 6:30 AM, tasked to implement mental health IEC in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Ah packed his weary-worn bag for work travel to Halsema National Highway. He decided to visit farming folks in Buguias. Why?
It can be recalled that in 2008-2009, 64 suicide cases transpired in the farming municipalities of kibungan, Buguias and Atok, in Benguet.
Also, in 2016, CAR health authorities were alarmed when 112 attempted suicides were logged at Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC). Dr. Genna Hipolito of BGHMC Psychiatry Department said majority of those who attempted suicide were from age brackets 19-44, 45-49 and 60’s. Most suffered from mental depression.
That time last year, before proceeding to Buguias, Ah decided to drop by barangay Cruz, in La Trinidad, to visit Donato Kantian, 26, a colleague, just recently married but forced out of his home near Poblacion, La Trinidad.
Donato had a spirited verbal spat with his missus and decided to shy away temporarily from his family for things to cool off, let his missus run her anger to the ground and forgive him. So Donato decided to rent a room in barangay Cruz.
It was related by other colleagues that the trouble that caused it all were their having gotten drunk during a birthday party. They all went home only when the sun started to climb out of the horizon.
While wives of co-workers of Donato forgave their husbands for their drunken lapse, Donato’s wife didn’t and railed at Donato like a broken record.
Ah was motivated to visit Donato, a happy chap, not because he was in the habit of meddling in quarrels of spouses and becoming the recipient of being called “pakialamero.” No, Donato was his subordinate.
He wanted to know if Donato preferred to cut short his vacation, report for work and join in the travel since mental health advocacy needed to be implemented soonest before other UN calendar days submerge them in separate IEC drives.
By accounts, Ah sympathized with Donato being alone sans his wife and kid. Also, Donato was an excellent communicator in both Kan-kanaey and Ibaloi dialects, his expertise needed where Cordillerans fluently spoke both dialects in the Halsema communities.
Pondering about Donato’s communication knack, Ah was intrigued why Donato easily felt at ease with his trademark technical lingo, but when it came to settling dispute with his missus, his missus “refuses” or can’t seem to understand, that sometimes, “men become boys again, or boys will be boys” once in a blue moon. That becoming boys again mean they don’t shrug off responsibility.
“Oh, boy, quarrels of a newlywed. Seems no couple is spared of this malady, anyway,” Ah mused.
“But he’ll get over it,” Ah assumed, as he asked instructions from passerby in barangay Cruz of the whereabouts of the house where he presumed Donato rented.
Ah found Donato in a spare room with a bed, chair, table and mirror tacked against a wall. If for anything, the room felt devoid of warmth.
“Well, I’ll be a pagan, but I’m sure you haven’t washed your face or taken a bath, eh?” Ah greeted Donato, who opened his door upon Ah’s knock. He ushered Ah in.
“Ha! Ain’t you a prodigal married bachelor, with your cheerless room and rueful philosophy, on a bitter cold night,” Ah cackled in jest at Donato who scratched his head.
Trying to uplift the downhearted spirit of Donato, Ah continued, “When your hearth is out, you slip under the sheet of your lonely bed, draw up your toes, puff, blow and swears no mortal should suffer such woes from the wife, no?”
Donato smiled sheepishly at his predicament. He was really depressed it bothered Ah.
After some time, Donato stood up, went to his table. Above it, the mirror was tacked.
Suddenly, Donato’s eyes turned stern. His cheeks went pale. On his tightened lips, there appeared a smile of fearful meaning. No doubt, Ah surmised, Donato was in a solemn pause of resolute despair.
Whereupon, Donato took a note on the table and read on. Apparently, Donato was reading a note when Ah disturbed by knocking on his door. Finished reading it, he calmly folded the note.
Before Ah could say anything, Donato suddenly produced a blue, cold, gleaming steel of razor blade from the table’s drawer and grimly tested its tempered edge by feeling it with his fingertip.
Of course, and by no means, the razor blade was deadly sharp. Then Donato looked into the mirror and bared his throat.
“Lordy,” Ah whimpered in horror at the thought of what he believed Donato was about to do with his life. A dizzying sickness crept upon Ah. His head swam.
“Panga-asim, nu anya ti pan-panunutem, saan mo nga aramiden,” Ah pleaded to Donato.
Ah couldn’t stir from where he sat, his senses benumbed and frozen, wondering if Donato had crossed the thin line separating sanity from insanity.
“No, Lord, not today, not ever, when we are supposed to highlight mental health,” Ah whispered to himself and strove to think no more.
A change crossed Donato’s face, as he looked at Ah mysteriously. The he raised high the glittering razor blade and placed it at his throat.
Ah sprung from his seat and shouted, “Donato, panga-asim, saan. For only a quarrel with the wife, Don’t be a madman by taking your life!”
Donato looked at Ah but heeded him not. Before Ah could arrest Donato’s hand and wrest away the deadly sharp razor, Donato, in slow but clean strokes, began shaving his beard, meanwhile humming smilingly to his heart’s content the song, “Old Mac Donald had a farm, ey yay ey yay oh; and on the farm he had. . .”