Human Face

Suicide and the ‘feeding frenzy’


In suicide cases, experts say, guilt should never be owned and blame should never be assigned.

I find myself repeating myself—like today—whenever there is a high-profile case of suicide and a blame game ensues.  And then it is followed by a “feeding frenzy,” which was how someone in the health sector described the finger-pointing and the media overload in the case of University of the Philippines student Kristel Tejada, who killed herself.

The reason that most everyone—her schoolmates, parents, sympathizers—is pointing to is Kristel’s becoming despondent over having to go on leave because of her failure to pay her tuition.

Explanations have been given on why UP’s policies were so, which indeed need to be addressed, but breast-beating on the part of its officials was also displayed, partly perhaps to appease those who clamor for changes in school policies.

Tejada instantly became the poster girl for school reforms, especially in public universities that are supposed to offer the best for the least. Suddenly she was turned into a martyr whose death could ignite a variety of causes. Because of the media attention, her death seemed heroic even though her suicide note did not say exactly why she wanted to leave this world.

God forbid a suicide contagion among the young who are emotionally disturbed and who may think their “meaningless” lives can achieve meaning if they end their lives in order to drive home a point.

Remember the case some years ago of Marianette Amper, the poor, bright girl from the south who hanged herself supposedly because of poverty? I wrote about her case (“Suicide has no heroes,” Inquirer, 11/14/2007) because of how it was thrust into the public glare and the way the media intruded into her family’s privacy. She was made into a poster girl for poverty reduction and the government’s slowness in addressing poverty.

A psychotherapist who looked into her case later told me that the girl’s suicide was not as simple as it seemed, and that poverty alone could not have driven her to desperation. There were other issues that weighed her down.

In Kristel’s case, some reasonable sympathizers and empathizers say that the tuition issue could have been just the last straw and that there is more than meets the eye. Oh, but everything seemed to focus on school policies and fees, and few ever brought up the need to help students with mental health issues.

Suicide is more than cause and effect, I have said several times. As someone with background training in behavioral science, I find this subject important. It raises red flags for me, especially because people tend to look at it in a very simplistic way—that is, one plus one equals two.

A topic not often openly discussed, suicide hogs the headlines when a well-known person carries it out “successfully.” Or when someone unknown or unlikely (very young, like Marianette) commits suicide in an unusual manner or for seemingly uncommon reasons.

Last year at a roundtable, we discussed suicides by individuals—acting alone or, worse, in a copycat serial manner—who choose to end their lives because of personal reasons, unbearable depression among them. Depression is not the only cause of suicide, by the way. And religiously/politically motivated suicide bombers are a category of their own.

Media intrusion into the private pain of those left behind is always an issue. In shock, are the bereaved equipped to face media curiosity and state facts to end speculation? What is there for the public to learn? Are the media of any help in understanding and prevention? Or are they part of the feeding frenzy?

Do you know of the Suicide Prevention Act of 2005? It requires school heads and counselors to collect, monitor and acknowledge all events and parties associated with suicide incidences. It has yet to be implemented.

Hospital and police records, by the way, do not always state the true causes of death, especially death by suicide.  According to Dr. Dinah Nadera, a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, suicide reporting, or reporting for recording purposes, is poor. Media reporting is another story.

One may ask: Why try to prevent suicides when there are people who want to call it quits?  One can rationalize that those who kill themselves are in “a better place” or beyond pain and suffering. Oh, but what about the bereaved who will bear the loss, trauma, stigma, guilt and blame? Death by suicide diminishes a family and a community in many ways.

On the part of the deceased, there is the death of dreams and unfulfilled possibilities. The same goes for those who truly loved them and hoped in them, those who must move on.

Experts say that among the “protective beliefs” that lower the suicide risk among college students are spirituality, family support, peer support and positive expectancy.

The common components of national suicide prevention strategies are public awareness, media education, access to services, building community capacity, means restriction, training, and research and evaluation.

For suicide prevention advocates, the World Health Organization has a publication “Towards Evidence-Based Suicide Prevention Programmes” that provides basic strategies. But it stresses that there is no single solution in dealing with suicide in a heterogeneous environment—that is, one size does not fit all—and that there is need for novel approaches.

For support groups, family members and school personnel, there is the “Suicide First Aid Guidelines for the Philippines” by the Foundation for Advancing Wellness, Instruction and Talents Inc.

Some numbers to call in case of suicide threats: 0917-5724673, 0917-5584673, 0917-8524673, 0917-8425673, 2114550, 2111305 and 8937606.

* * *

Wishing you a meaningful Holy Week and a hope-filled Easter. I cry out, Rabboni!

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com

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Tags: education , Human Face , Kristel Tejada , Ma. Ceres P. Doyo , opinion , suicide , tuition , UP Manila

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