Las Vegas Sun

June 14, 2021

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Mental health:

Las Vegas nurse’s suicide went beyond COVID-related depression, says daughter who hopes to raise awareness

Remelinda Tecson

Courtesy of Ashley Tecson

Ashley Tecson and her mother, Remelinda Tecson, celebrate Ashley’s graduation from college in 2011 in Southern California. Remelinda Tecson, who had been a nurse in the intensive care unit at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena Campus, took her life earlier this year at age 57.

Remelinda Tecson

Remelinda Tecson is shown wearing her nursing uniform in Cebu City, Philippines, in this undated photo. Tecson, an intensive care unit nurse since the 1980s who worked at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena Campus, died earlier this year of suicide. Launch slideshow »

To know Remelinda Tecson was to know a multidimensional, complex and loving person, the former Las Vegas nurse’s daughter says.

Strong, fun and driven, Tecson was a single mother who poured her heart and soul into caring for her patients in intensive care units for more than 30 years, most recently at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena Campus, in Henderson.

A turn of events in 2020, including seeing firsthand the ravages of COVID-19 on her patients and mold issues that forced her to move out of her newly purchased house, may have been too much for the 57-year-old immigrant from the Philippines, who for most of her life had put her own struggles aside in the care of others.

Tecson took her own life Jan. 19.

Ashley Tecson, a 32-year-old film publicist who lives in Los Angeles, won’t let suicide define her mother. Nor does she want to simplify her mother’s death by blaming it on the pandemic.

Her death could be a teaching moment for other health care professionals or anyone else who’s fallen deep in the throes of life.

“Some people may want to shy away from saying that their loved one died by suicide, but I think it’s so important to say it and be honest,” Ashley wrote in an email. “Not only to heal, but also to show everyone else that this isn’t a fringe issue.”

“Everyone was shocked that my mom had killed herself because she had always been so strong, so fun, so driven,” Ashley wrote, “but depression, suicide and mental health issues affect so many people whether they want to admit it or not.”

• • •

Friends and colleagues said Remelinda was a light amid darkness in the ICU; an empathetic hero and workaholic who thrived in any professional challenge caring for the critically ill.

They described “Dayin” — as she was known affectionately — as an ardent traveler who enjoyed exploring foreign countries but who would just as easily hop on flights with little time’s notice to visit longtime friends in Chicago when she’d grow bored at home.

During her last international trip, to Europe just months before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she kept watch over her friend’s mother, a woman who used a wheelchair and had fallen sick on the trip.

Reaching out

If you or anyone you know is at risk of suicide, immediate resources are available in English and Spanish at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Not only did Remelinda bring food, she also offered the woman pleasant company and conversation while her friend, Veronica Deniega, was away at a work conference.

No one asked Remelinda to do it — it was just one of the “endless acts of kindness” she routinely performed for others.

“Like any friend, and like any sister, Dayin was around, and she comforted me and assured me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to take care of your mom,’ ” Deniega said during a tearful eulogy Jan. 29 at her friend’s virtually-held funeral. “Don’t worry, your mom is enjoying the trip.”

One by one, the speeches of vast sorrow and loss continued at Remelinda’s funeral, in which each of the mourners highlighted her human qualities, sidestepping how she died.

That is until the priest officiating the ceremony gave his final remarks.

“No one has said a word,” he said, “so, I’m going to say it.”

In a consolatory but sharp tone, the priest mentioned Remelinda’s suicide, noting that it shouldn’t be cast aside. He likened the act as someone being trapped and lost in a dark tunnel with no illuminated exit in sight.

Those who don’t emerge, like Remelinda, deserve spiritual salvation, he said.

“They’re so deep and so far into themselves, they don’t recognize … anything else,” he said. “And so, I firmly believe she’s at peace.”

Ashley learned about her mother’s dark tunnel just before Remelinda’s death.

“It was basically a lifetime’s worth of buried pain and emotion that she couldn’t make sense of,” Ashley said. “She wasn’t herself. She told me she couldn’t see the beauty in colors or landscapes anymore, that she couldn’t remember how to pray, and didn’t see the point in celebrating a new year. She couldn’t pour a glass of water or turn on the TV for herself. Sometimes she would just sit in silence and you could tell that her mind was in a downward spiral. It was scary and heartbreaking, and I was doing everything I could to help her.”

Those steps included moving back to Las Vegas to be with her mother while Remelinda sought treatment for her mental anguish. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.

After her mother’s death, one of the first steps the grieving daughter took was to create the Remelinda Tecson Memorial Fund. Thus far, Ashley has raised nearly $9,400 of a $10,000 goal, with the money earmarked for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

• • •

Remelinda was born in 1963 in Surigao City, Philippines. Having an incessant passion about the well-being of others, she gravitated toward nursing school, studying at Velez College in Cebu City.

In the early 1980s, the registered nurse immigrated to the U.S., first living in Missouri, then moving to Chicago around the time Ashley was born in 1989. Remelinda was an ICU nurse there for nearly three decades before she moved to Las Vegas in 2016.

Ashley described being raised by a workaholic, single mother who didn’t hesitate to put in 16-hour days at the hospital. She remembers only seeing her mother after school was let out, but only for a couple hours before Remelinda was back at work and Ashley was back with babysitters.

That sense of separation drove a stake through their relationship from early on, Ashley said. Growing up, her mother had gone through trauma but never talked about it. She was just like her loved ones back home who were taught “not to complain or talk about feelings and just get over it,” Ashley said. To “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and never let anyone know you’re hurting.”

“We clashed a lot because of that, and I know it wasn’t easy for her to figure out how to deal with an emotional American daughter,” she added.

Nursing was a way for her mother to avoid depression by helping others, so her long work days are hard to hold against her, Ashley said. After all, she also was a provider to her family back home and to her daughter, taking her on vacations, paying for college and buying her a car at age 16.

On top of that, she was “saving people’s lives,” Ashley said.

At one point, the daughter found out that depression ran in her family. She recognized it in herself from a young age. Her mother even showed signs that she was open to receiving help after the death of a sister in 2011. Remelinda began going to a therapist but didn’t commit fully, her daughter said. Eventually the sessions ended.

To the outside world, Remelinda compartmentalized her different “attributes,” her daughter said. She was the provider to her family, shy to strangers but also the “life of the party” among friends. She loved to dance, sing karaoke and had an infectious laugh.

“I loved my mom and she loved me,” Ashley said. “By no means was she a bad mother — by no means was she a bad anything.”

• • •

Last year was particularly tough on Remelinda.

She was experiencing health problems and mold issues forced her to sell a house she had just purchased. She was also an ICU nurse during an unprecedented pandemic.

Ashley stayed with her early in the pandemic, from March to May, 2020, when the science around COVID-19 was still largely unknown.

She said her mother was “incredibly frustrated” on how hospitals were scrambling to protect staff; how they had to combat misinformation, and how “the general public wasn’t taking (the virus) seriously … how she was putting her life at risk for people that didn’t even care enough to try to protect themselves by staying home or wearing masks,” Ashley said.

Her mother also was devastated by the loss of patients who had to die alone because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts at hospitals, Ashley added. Remelinda’s hands were made raw by hand sanitizer and other disinfectant chemicals. She would leave her scrubs and shoes in a container when she got home and rush straight to shower to not expose her daughter to the virus.

“By the time all that would be done, it would be time for bed so she could do it all again the next day,” Ashley said. “I also think bracing for the mass wave of cases amplified her anxiety exponentially.”

Remelinda took time off work in November but was stuck at home with nothing to do, something she wasn’t used to.

A few days before Christmas, she attempted suicide but was rushed to a hospital after her daughter found her. Remelinda was transferred to Seven Hills Hospital for its in-patient program. She stayed for about a week and was discharged before New Year’s Eve.

Ashley said her mother spoke about quitting her job because she was nervous about the stigma of addressing her suicide attempt.

Ashley, who had moved back in with her mother, admitted Remelinda into a partial hospitalization program at ICAN Family Services, a mental health facility, where she saw some improvement, she said.

“She was learning how to open up, but it was incredibly overwhelming for her,” Ashley said.

Remelinda was mentally exhausted and in pain from undiagnosed health issues, and her condition began to deteriorate.

On Jan. 19, Ashley found her mother’s body in a bedroom about 10 feet away from her room.

“I have been through a lot in my life,” she said, “But that is by far the most traumatic.”

• • •

The long-term mental health effects of the pandemic on health care workers, who’ve been witnesses to a prolonged killer that is COVID-19, are yet to be seen.

In a study published in University of Utah Health, researchers estimated that more than 50% of health care workers involved in the COVID-19 response “could be at risk for one or more mental health problems, including acute traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use and insomnia,” according to a summary of the report. They said the problems were similar for those who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina.

As it stands, without a pandemic, one in four adults in the U.S. is susceptible to having mental health challenges in their lifetime, noted Shane W. Kraus, director of UNLV’s Behavioral Addictions Lab and an assistant professor at the university’s psychology and psychiatry programs.

“Our medical staff are heroes, and they’re just trying to save lives,” Kraus said. “Unfortunately, seeing the compounding deaths and seeing someone pass away from COVID repeatedly over, and over and over,” he said. “It’s a very intense situation. It’s incredibly traumatic.”

Kraus said health care workers were susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder and likened their condition to that of military members who have witnessed death upon death on the combat field.

Not everyone is affected the same, and resilience could play a big part in healing, Kraus said. But even the ones who aren’t susceptible to previous psychological issues could begin to break as the weeks in the response have turned into months, he added.

In those with a previous history of mental health challenges, Kraus said, the effects can be compounding. Further complicating the response is that there’s a stigma about medical professionals getting help when they’re the ones used to helping others.

“Even the best medical health professionals, when they’re just pushed to the brink of exhaustion and their mission is to help others and to save lives, and just to see death and dying on the frequent basis,” Kraus said. “I think that does touch you in a way.”

“We’re going to be working through this for the next decade or two,” Kraus said about mental health resources the professionals will require.

“The past year has been incredibly difficult for health care professionals around the world,” Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican said in a statement, which didn’t acknowledge Remelinda’s employment. “Doctors, nurses and other caregivers in our community have fought the stresses of long hours and difficult conditions throughout this pandemic.”

The company said it made resources available to “members of our professional family.” It didn’t offer additional information.

Ashley said her mother’s death was about much more than what she experienced as a health care professional during the pandemic.

“A lot of people want to blame the pandemic for my mom’s suicide, but to me that feels misleading,” Ashley said. “She had held in so much, never healed from her past and didn’t know how to let anyone help her. She had come this far just by sheer willpower, but that’s not a sustainable way to live. When you add any kind of unexpected difficulty on top of that, it’s enough to topple over the edge.”

• • •

Ashley will remember her mother as the strongest person she’s known, who — to a fault — thought she needed to “carry the weight of the world alone,” she wrote.

She will also cherish letters, received from families whose loved ones were cared for by her mother, thanking her for the empathy Remelinda showed their loved ones, particularly during the pandemic.

“My mom taught me to be hard-working and responsible but only as a means to go out and enjoy the world,” Ashley said. “She taught me to be independent — almost to a fault. She was a strong woman and continuously proved that she didn’t need anyone else,” she added.

“She also inadvertently showed me the flaw in that thinking — even if you don’t need anyone, having people to support you makes life a lot easier and even enjoyable.”