Seven Filipinos commit suicide every day
SHE WAS easily one of the most beautiful girls of her generation. She was full of life, intellectually gifted, and brimming with so much potential. At 21, when a bright future was just starting to beckon, she committed suicide.
“Marie” was the daughter of very close friends of mine. After completing college at our country’s top private university, she interned at a nongovernmental organization that I head and where she helped victims of injustice. She was planning on attending the country’s top law school, but decided to end her life instead. Death lured her for reasons that many of us will never understand.
When news of Marie’s suicide broke, a number of my other friends plied their teenage kids with questions: Are they depressed? Have they or their close friends experienced depression? A couple of the kids confided that they have friends who have depression at levels that drive them to entertain thoughts of suicide. One high school kid revealed that he has five friends who have made several suicide attempts by slashing their wrists.
There’s a troubling increase in the incidence of suicide among our young people. And these incidents may only be the tip of a giant iceberg.
While the suicide rate in the Philippines is lower compared to other countries, the figures have steadily risen over a period of 20 years from 1992 to 2012. It was found that in 2012 alone, as many as seven Filipinos took their own lives in a day. That’s a troubling rate of one person committing suicide every three and a half hours.
It is a misconception that suicide and depression affect mostly the poor. Stories abound of the growing prevalence of serious depression and suicide incidents in colleges attended by middle-class and rich kids.
A student of the University of the Philippines, Tristan Yuvienco, won a best thesis award for a comprehensive paper he wrote on mental depression among college students in Metro Manila.
Yuvienco made a survey involving a sample size of 135 students, ages 16 to 24. They are predominantly students of the University of the Philippines Diliman and Manila, with some coming from the University of Santo Tomas, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University and Far Eastern University. According to his survey, 96 percent of the participants reported having experienced an episode of moderately intense to very intense depression during their stay in school. Academic work is the biggest factor that gave them “depressed feelings,” followed by family issues and relationship problems.
Yuvienco also found that more than 50 percent of the students who experienced depression felt lack of understanding from friends and family. This finding, that most depressed students find no empathy from people close to them, is an important observation. The lack of empathy aggravates depression. And a depressed person’s need for empathy points to the kind of treatment that can be effective.
Quoting mental health experts, Yuvienco wrote: “When faced with stressful events, individuals prone to depression experience negative thoughts to one’s self, the world, and the future. For these individuals, the environment presents obstacles that are so overwhelming that they guarantee personal failure. This world is seen as an overwhelming burden filled with excessive demands and daily defeats, making these individuals experience helplessness. This ends up with a negatively distorted way of thinking.”
To deal with this negative way of thinking that causes depression, mental health professionals list two types of treatment. One is called “biologically based intervention,” which usually involves prescription of antidepressant drugs. The other is called “intrapersonally based intervention,” which involves listening to and talking with a depressed person with the aim of helping change his or her negative way of thinking into a positive way of looking at life.
Of these two types of treatment, the second is considered the more effective treatment. “A person experiencing depression requires help from an individual with a supportive, understanding, and empathic mindset,” Yuvienco wrote, citing experts in his research.
Observations have been made that many mental health professionals in the Philippines resort more to prescribing antidepressant medications than to giving more emphasis on talking to the patient to help him or her gain a positive outlook in life. Recklessly attributing a patient’s depression to “chemical imbalance,” despite lack of real scientific evidence, also leads patients to feel that their situation is hopeless, and drives them to even deeper depression.
Marie’s father grieves over the mishandling of his daughter’s depression: Her psychiatrist had dismissed her negative thoughts as the result of her merely being “bored.” She may still be alive today if her psychiatrist only showed empathy and exerted patience in talking with her, the father laments.
Frances Rallonza Bretaña, who led the “Million People March” in 2013 at the Luneta calling for the abolition of the pork barrel, has battled depression for over 30 years. She has survived several attempts at suicide.
Bretaña has bravely appeared in a video (#chooseLIFEtoday) to make the public aware of the challenges faced by people who struggle with depression, especially the stigma, insults, and lack of public empathy. She has fighting words for her kindred spirits: “I choose to fight. I choose not to be afraid. And today I choose life.”
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