Depression and deciding to take one’s life are real-world problems that are not that well recognized, understood and given the proper support those suffering from them need
BY HENRYLITO D. TACIO
Last September in Cebu City, a 17-year-old girl leaped to death from a seventh-floor of a school building. “The administration and studentry are so shocked about the unfortunate incident that claimed the life of our student, Jonah Mae, who committed suicide by jumping out of the window…” said the official school statement.
A flashback. Before the incident, the student reportedly “displayed erratic behavior while attending her class.” She even tried to climb out of the classroom’s window. Fortunately, the teacher was able to restrained the student. She called the guidance counselor, named Marcus, who then fetched the student and brought her to the counselling office.
The guidance counselor contacted the mother of the student. While waiting, he asked some questions. From their conversation, he learned that “she has been physically, verbally and psychologically abused by her parents at home.” However, Jonah Mae did not elaborate when asked why.
He also learned that she tried to commit suicide several times already. At one time, she ingested a dozen packs of monosodium glutamate. In another occasion, she gulped a dozen of antibiotics and analgesics.
Then the mother arrived. “When Jonah sensed that her mother was around, she asked to go to the comfort room,” the official statement said. “Escorted by a guidance counselor to the women CR, Jonah quickly went inside the cubicle and locked herself up. And things quickly happened in seconds as she slipped out of the cubicle’s window.”
Happening every 40 seconds
In 2014, the Geneva-based World Health Organization published “Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative,” its first report on suicide as a public health issue. Suicide takes place as often as every 40 seconds, the report said.
An earlier WHO report said the Philippines has suicide rates (per 100,000) of 2.5 for men and 1.7 for women. This fact may be appalling for Filipinos but the numbers are way too small compared to those in Western countries.
In fact, the Philippines has one of the world’s lowest suicide rates. The 2000 Philippine Health Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) showed only 1.8 per 100,000 people to have inflicted harm on themselves. In comparison, European countries had the highest figures which ranged from 30 to 42 per 100,000.
Suicide is a major contributor to premature mortality around the world. Approximately 32 percent of the world’s suicides occur in Western Pacific region. “While acknowledged as an important and neglected health issue, it remains a low priority in most Western Pacific countries due to competing health problems, stigma and poor understanding of the condition,” wrote Maria Theresa Redaniel, May Antonnette Lebanan-Dalida, and David Gunnell, authors of “Suicide in the Philippines: time trend analysis (1974-2005) and literature review.”
According to their study, the incidence of suicide in males increased from 0.23 to 3.59 per 100,000 between 1984 and 2005. Similarly, rates rose from 0.12 to 1.09 per 100,000 in females. Among females, suicide rates were highest among the age bracket of 15-24 year old, while in males rates were similar in all age groups throughout the study period.
The most commonly used methods of suicide were hanging, shooting and pesticide ingestion. In non-fatal attempts, the most common methods used were ingestion of drugs or pesticide ingestion. Family and relationship problems were the most common problems reported.
“Close to 800,000 people (around the world) die due to suicide every year. For every suicide, there are many people who attempt suicide every year” – Dr. Gia B. Sison, national adviser of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition”
Suicide in the young
While suicide rates are low in the Philippines, there is an increase of suicide incidence among adolescents and young adults. Citing a report from the National Poison Management and Control Center of the Philippine General Hospital, Senator Joel Villanueva pointed out last year during a Senate hearing that 46% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth.
According to the report, “30 percent of those who committed suicide are young adults (aged 20 to 35 years old) while the remaining 16% are teens (aged 10 to 19 years old).”
All in all, there may be more Filipinos who committed suicide that what is recorded. “Certainly, the actual rate in the Philippines is probably higher, with many doctors agreeing not to report deaths as suicides because of the stigma. But even if we could get the true figure, it would probably still be relatively low,” Dr. Michael Tan wrote in his weekly column in a national daily.
Suicide, the process of purposely ending one’s own life, has always been viewed negatively in most culture. But not in Asia, where 60 percent of all the suicide deaths in the world are reported from. In fact, two of the countries with relatively high suicide rates are Japan and South Korea, which have a very high level of competition that starts right from childhood.
Risk factors present in those who are at high risk of committing suicide include the following: persistence of sadness even when other symptoms of depression are getting better, history of drug or alcohol abuse, history of prior suicide attempts, family history of suicide, family violence (including physical or sexual abuse), suicidal preoccupation and talk, and well defined plans for suicide.
According to some studies, one out of four people who complete suicide notes. These notes often refer to personal relationships and events that will follow the person’s death. Notes left by older people often express concern for those left behind, whereas those of younger people may express anger or vindictiveness.
The choice of suicide method is often influenced by cultural factors and availability and may or may not reflect the seriousness of intent. “Some methods (for example, jumping from a tall building) make survival virtually impossible, whereas other methods (for example, overdosing on drugs) make rescue possible,” the Merck manual noted. “However, even if a person uses a method that proves not to be fatal, the intent may have been just as serious as that of a person whose method was fatal.”
Drug overdose and self-poisoning are two of the most common methods used in suicide attempts. Violent methods, such as gunshots and hanging, are uncommon among attempted suicides because they usually result in death. Of completed suicides, a gunshot is the method most frequently used by males. Females are more likely to use non-violent methods, such as poisoning, drug overdose, or drowning.
In the Philippines, a study showed that the methods of committing suicide included shooting oneself, 40 percent; hanging, 30 percent; poisoning, 16.7 percent; and jumping from high places, 13.3 percent. In 73 percent of the reported cases, suicide was committed in their own homes.
Depression as root cause
According to Senator Villanueva, Filipino children as young as 10 years old resort to suicide because of depression.
“Depression is a devastating illness that affects the total being – physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” wrote Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier in their book, “Happiness Is a Choice.” “The emotional pain of depression is more severe than the physical pain of a broken leg.”
According to the health department, only one-third of people experiencing depression in the country seek professional help. Besides, it is hard to detect depression among Filipinos. “People confuse depression for normal sadness,” said Dr. Randy Dellosa, one of the notable psychiatrists in the country.
“In the Philippines, many people still think that depression is not an illness, but something that one eventually snaps out of, and that’s the reason why so many people who are suffering from depression feel embarrassed to seek help,” said Senator Grace Poe, who filed a resolution on the increasing incidence of suicide and depression in the country.
In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the highest number of depressed people, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Health. In fact, one in 5 adult Filipinos suffer from mental or psychiatric disorder.
“But these numbers don’t necessarily tell the entire story,” wrote Lila Ramos-Shanani in her column for “Philippine Star.” “According to the WHO, they probably represent only a portion of the whole, because suicides statistics are vulnerable to under-reporting in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines.”
There are several reasons why a person commit suicide. There are those who are planning to do it give some hints. Such was the case of the 26-year-old Nestor from Davao City. He jumped off from the fifth floor of a shopping mall. Before he took his own life, he posted in his Facebook wall that he was going to do it.
“I decided to go hindi dahil sa kasalanan ko ngaun… dahil matagal ko na tong plano, sana pala ginawa ko na noon di na sana ako nka gawa pa ng ibang kasalanan at makapanakit ng damdamin ng ibang tao,” he wrote. (I decided to go not because of the mistake I did now… I had planned this before, if I had done it before I would have done other mistakes that would hurt the feelings of others.)
A lady friend advised him not to do something drastic but he replied: “Dli ni sya dautan teh mao jud ni sya akong disisyon (This is not wrong, sister, this is really my decision).”
Suicide is for real and it is unfathomable why people try to cut their lives short. “It’s difficult to understand how a person could not give value to a survival instinct, which is to stay alive from a standpoint of a nonsuicidal person,” wrote Dr. Gia B. Sison, a practicing medical doctor who specializes in occupational medicine and a strong mental health advocate.
Quoting a book, “Clinical Manual for Assessment and Treatment of Suicidal Patients,” Dr. Sison further wrote: “The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending.”
“The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending”