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Killer of dreams

If this week you noticed the subject of suicide tackled quite often in the media, it’s because the World Health Organization (WHO)-Western Pacific Region based in Manila invited journalists (three of us from the Inquirer) for a mini-consultation and discussion on the prevention of this killer.

A topic not often openly discussed, suicide springs up in the media when a celebrity or a well-known person carries it out “successfully.” Or when someone unknown or unlikely (very young, for example) commits suicide in an unusual manner or place, or for very strange reasons.

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Sometime during the discussions, I asked if suicide bombers (lots of them out there) were to be tackled, too. No. Maybe a separate consultation on these politically/religiously-motivated suicide acts meant to harm many? If suicide is the result of a mind process gone awry, then suicide bombing is also suicide like any other. Hmm, but I digress.

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.

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I have written about suicide a number of times, one about a young, poor girl who was hastily presented by the media as a poster girl of rural poverty but who, it turned out later, had multiple issues weighing on her. And there was the high government official who ended it all with a bullet to the heart, the “honorable” way out for him. What about the lovelorn men who scale the billboards to call out to their lost inamoratas? It takes all kinds.

And there was the foiled suicide of a radio caller that aired live on “Dr. Love Radio Show” of Bro. Jun Banaag OP on dzMM Teleradyo. That was a gripping drama that ended positively because of how many big-hearted people (listeners, taxi drivers, government personnel, radio reporters) pooled efforts to help—without delay—a distraught mother of ailing children who was at the end of her rope. Brother Jun handled the crisis so well I was moved to write about it.

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? Yes, the media.

The WHO discussions were media-related and not for suicide prevention advocates and health groups who might be well-versed on the subject. My colleagues Rina David and Jocelyn Uy, who were present at the consultation, have already written about the suicide-related issues discussed. Let me stress other useful information.

Do you know that there is a Suicide Prevention Act of 2005? This requires school heads and counselors to collect, monitor and acknowledge all events and parties associated with suicide incidences. This bill has yet to be implemented.

During a group discussion, a journalist spoke about incidence of suicides in a school, but school authorities were tight-lipped.  It was difficult to write the story, he said, because no one wanted to be a source of information. Hospital and police records, by the way, do not always state the true causes of deaths.

Suicide reporting is poor, said Dr. Dinah Nadera, a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association. She meant reporting for recording purposes. But if she meant media reporting, she may not be wrong.

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One may ask, why the effort to prevent suicides when there are people who want to call it quits? (We’re not talking about euthanasia here.) One could rationalize that a suicide victim would be in “a better place” or beyond pain and suffering. Well, what about the bereaved who will bear the loss, trauma, stigma, guilt and blame? (Thought guilt should never be owned and blame should never be assigned.) Death through 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. Same goes for those who truly loved them and hoped in them, they 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.

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.

An interesting highlight of the PowerPoint presentation at the consultation was the one on Don Richie, 84.  For almost 50 years he lived across the street from Australia’s most notorious suicide spot, a rocky cliff at the entrance to the Sydney Harbor called The Gap. He has, so far, saved 160 people, according to an official tally, and was among the honored Citizens of the Year 2010.

For suicide prevention advocates and professionals, WHO has a publication “Towards Evidence-Based Suicide Prevention Programmes” that provides basic suicide prevention strategies. It gives details in formulating and evaluating prevention programs. 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 therefore the 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.

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

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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