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Mom on Son's Suicide: I Brushed Off The Signs Because I Didn't Know What to Look For
PHOTO BY @sheilasuntay/Instagram
  • Sheila Guevara-Suntay could still vividly remember that day she spoke about suicide to her son Renzo, 20 at the time.

    Renzo had told his mom that his friend had died, and when Sheila learned it was by suicide, she became worried and brought up the subject with her son and his 16-year-old sister. 

    “I spoke to them and said, I hope you kids are not thinking of suicide. His reaction was, ‘Ma, as if naman I would do that,’” recalls Sheila, saying Renzo even made light of the moment.

    Three days later, on April 21, 2018, Renzo was found lifeless on the bathroom floor of their home in Quezon City. He had died by suicide.

    Renzo was an accomplished young man. He  was a member of the Philippine National Shooting Association, was a taekwondo black belter, and also excelled in badminton. He was the eldest of five siblings.

    Of having a son like Renzo and a family she’s extremely proud of, Sheila says, “When you achieve a dream like this, you don’t think something tragic will ever happen to you.”


    Isolation: a strong sign of depression

    One year and a half since Renzo’s passing, Sheila and her husband, Rep. Bong Suntay of the 4th District of Quezon City, have come to terms with what has happened. But it’s still a puzzle to Sheila how well Renzo was able to hide his depression.

    “I feel there were signs, but because I did not know mental health, you kind of just brush it off,” she says.

    Looking back, however, Sheila says there were subtle signs if you look hard enough. Isolation is one of them.

    “I lost him Saturday morning. The week before that, we were supposed to go drinking, just the three of us, [kasi] para kong mga barkada yan: me, my son and my daughter. That afternoon he called it off na. ‘Ma, I don’t feel well tonight, I think I’m just going to go join my friends.’ 

    That Sunday, he also said he didn’t want to join us for dinner because it’s exams week. But these things, akala mo baka exams week nga lang, but when you look at it medyo nag-a-isolate na siya, he didn’t want to do regular activities. Although it’s still very, very hard to tell.”

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    In the Philippines, there is little available data on the prevalence of depression and suicide among Pinoy teens. A survey among Filipino students showed that 42 percent have felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more, 17.1 percent have seriously considered committing suicide, and 16.7 percent had made plans on how they would carry it out, as shown in the 2003–2004 Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) report.

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    After Renzo’s death, Sheila says they sought professional help so they could make sense of what happened.

    “When I presented the case to doctors, it turns out he was suffering from clinical depression already at the time that I spoke to him. He was already battling with suicide.”

    In memory of her son, Sheila had founded YOLO by Renzo Suntay, a non-profit organization for mental health awareness. Her advocacy has brought her to different universities to address young people and their parents, because she believes something can and should be done about the rising cases of mental illness in the country. 

    What parents can do: first steps 

    “When I invite people to my talks, I always hear, ‘Hindi naman ako ang target market mo; wala namang depression yung anak ko.’ I tell them, go to my talk, because you don’t know if your child has depression or not. All of you are my target market,” she says. SmartParenting.com.ph caught up with her during the Mental Health Awareness forum organized by Jeunesse Anion.


    Sheila looks back with regret for not being able to do some things which she thinks could have helped Renzo at the height of his depression.

    “I now tell parents, barkadahin mo yung mga kaibigan niya. Apparently, Renzo’s friends knew he was suffering from depression, but he made them promise not to tell me.

    “[Dati, his] friends would come to the house and my husband and I would say hi, hello, and then we go up na. Now, we make it a point to sit down with them and talk to them. We invite them, we develop a connection, because pag may problema ang anak mo it’s easier for them to open up to us. It will be easier for them to say, ‘Tita, pag-akyat ni ano may sasabihin ako sa ‘yo.' (Here's how to help a child with depression if he refuses to open up.)

    “Develop a relationship with the friends para hindi sila mahirapan magkwento sa inyo when there’s something wrong with your child. Now they have my cell phone number and they just text me. I should have done that.”


    Sheila believes a number of factors may have contributed to Renzo’s decision to go. (Food may also aggravate mental health conditions. Read more about it.)

    “I feel it’s a chemical imbalance that could have been triggered by certain events. Of course, I’ll never know.”

    Through YOLO by Renzo, Sheila hopes to save young lives from suicide, from which there is a casualty every 40 seconds, according to statistics.

    “I want to breathe life into his death. I don’t want his death to go in vain. I want people to remember him as the boy who sparked a movement.”


    Don't be afraid to reach out if you are feeling anxious, helpless, or despondent. If you need someone to talk to: 

    * Aricle was updated on October 11, 2019 with Rep. Bong Suntay's current official designation. 

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