Mental illness and suicides
There seems to be an epidemic that is more deadly than dengue. We do not hear much about it, not as much as we should considering its potential impact on society (although there is more mention of it lately). I refer to the general ailment of mental illness, not the usual visible ones we know that inevitably brings the victims to a mental institution. We see or hear about it more as depression, generally more quiet and subtle. The person suffering from it does not act irrationally for a long while. When they do mention it as best as they can describe their situation, they are presumed as just some moody episode.
I am not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. Being a senior, though, with decades of life experiences, I have equivalency, so to speak, not of the details of their expertise, but the exposure to many people who have suffered and sought out help. By now, many must be suffering and the number of deaths alarming. Authorities in government, churches, and educational institutions must be getting worried because mental health concerns do get reported more today. There is even an official mental health awareness month.
Of course, we do not get the full and real statistics. We do receive sporadic news about those who commit suicide because some suicides cannot avoid getting into the news. Either the victim is a high-profile personality or related to one, or the manner of suicide is more public. But other than that, we can get only a sense, not verified information. I wish government will take the lead here in making people understand more of the gravity of mental illness or depression. If such a situation is really serious, a press release is of very little help to the understanding of the general public. The Shake Drill of MMDA in preparation for the Big Earthquake has more focused attention. Yet, earthquakes are not happening everyday while depression that leads to attempted or completed suicide does.
There are ways of putting mental health concerns up front and center. If those who have access to the macro statistics come to the conclusion that we have an illness than can become an epidemic, then they must engage the public as best as they can. If there are information and interventions that can make Filipinos more aware, more informed, and then more equipped, lives will be saved. The reverse is true as well. If Filipinos stay unaware, uniformed, and ill-equipped to handle mental health concerns that grow to be mental illnesses, then more lives will be lost.
I have been informed about this alarming trend mostly by those in counselling, in schools, and in the medical profession. If the numbers as they know it reveal a pattern that can be epidemic in nature, they should start to engage everybody and not just the parents of the troubled youth in their care. It is easy to judge that parents are the primary cause, which somehow sounds both true and false, but a growing number can mean that it is more societal and not just familial. It can be lifestyle and culture combining to aggravate a weakness simply because they are unaware. The lack of awareness allows the many causes to prosper because these have become part of an acceptable lifestyle.
Aside from gaps or weaknesses in parenting, another usual culprit is technology that is moving with such speed, volume and radicalness. It might be very well so, just as parents can hardly escape some level of culpability. But awareness, information and expert guidance can mitigate or even neutralize the impact of the great technological march. In the first place, advances in technology will not stop, not even slow down. On the contrary, they will continue at a faster pace. Knowing that and pointing to technology as a factor in depression among the young (and even the not so young) is like committing collective suicide if we do not develop a mental illness prevention program.
There are some in the world who do monitor, process and share their insights of global movements and tendencies. Their insights are powerful because, through these, we can see the destructive paths and consequences in technicolor, so to speak. Many scientists, for example, point to climate change, global warming, and rising sea levels which can eliminate many coastal villages. There may be continuing debates about specifics, but what is clear to many is that they already feel the heat, the droughts, the typhoons and floods – at levels they claim to be the worst in living memory. Their claims are often supported by scientific statistics like historical heat and water levels.
If mental health concerns are elevated to the level of consciousness as climate change, human creativity will produce countermeasures. Of course, different nations will address the same problem is different ways. But as they do, there will invariably emerge common strategies and methodologies. Adopting what is common will create a global response.
Technology and its unfavorable impact on humanity is a global challenge. If we are convinced that technology has contributed to mental illness or depression, then let us be prepared for a more powerful and faster attack. That attack will hit mostly the younger generations and the ones about to emerge. How do we respond? What do we do to prepare? More importantly, how do we shield our young when what we are only starting to complain about today will come like a tsunami in the very near future?
My appeal, then, is mostly to those who know better what is already going on but somehow have chosen to keep it private. To keep secret the presence of what can be an epidemic is close to criminal. Yes, they can rationalize and justify, saying the numbers as yet are not threatening. I really hope so. Nobody wants suicide to be an option for the young. But if the threat is minimal and insignificant, give the more serious threats the slot of Mental Awareness Month.
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