June 21, 2024

“I find it as the only way out.”
Those are the words of a young friend whom I have spoken to about suicide. As a teenager, he had been dealing with anxiety and feelings of depression that at a certain point, he thought about taking his own life.
According to the World Health Organization, suicide deaths accounted for 0.34 percent of the total deaths in the Philippines in 2020. That includes 2,325 suicide deaths, a 57 percent increase, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in the country’s suicide rate as compared to the preceding year.
In the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study led by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), one in five Filipino youth aged 15 to 24 have considered ending their life. The same study found that females are twice more likely to have ever experienced suicide ideation and suicide attempt.
For many, these data are just numbers. But for some, these numbers have names.
Often times, suicides are unexpected. The warning signs are not always obvious. Although some people may make their intentions clear, others keep their suicidal thoughts and feelings secret. Many a times, it comes as a shock to learn that a person whom we have always thought as the life of the party had committed suicide.
According to the Philippine Mental Health Association, the warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die or ending one’s life, talking about being a burden to others, or talking about having great guilt or shame. Signs may also include feeling empty, hopeless, or extremely sad, feeling more anxious, agitated, or even having feelings of unbearable emotional or physical pain. Sudden behavioral changes, such as planning or researching ways to die, frequently putting up self-demeaning posts on social media, sudden changes in usual activities, withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items, making a will, taking dangerous risks, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and displaying extreme mood swings are also warning signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
But what can we do when a friend or a person we know shows some of these warning signs? At times, we take a step back, thinking that it is not our place to meddle in their life. There are times when we take these warning signs for granted, thinking that our friend may simply be joking, or are just being foolish. There are times when we simply admonish them when they display these symptoms and just tell them to grow up. And then we regret our actions soon, when it’s too late.
On social media, I have seen some shared posts from people telling their social media friends that they can call them when they are having suicidal thoughts. It may seem to be a nice gesture, but it could also feel insincere, as if a ploy for gossip. It may also make a suicidal person feel more pressured in finding a way on how to break it to a person they know that they are having these thoughts. According to the UPPI study in 2021, 62 percent of those who thought of suicide did not reach out to anyone about their ideations and only two percent of those who attempted suicide reached out to a professional. As such, it is best to get in touch with our at-risk friend or family member rather than wait for them to get in touch with us. Reaching out could be the difference between life and death.
When we do reach out to them, WHO says it is best to be honest and ask if they are thinking of killing themselves. We can help by knowing their plans and limiting their access to highly lethal items. We should listen without judgment and be ready to acknowledge and talk about suicide. Empathy is key.
We also have to acknowledge that we cannot do everything by ourselves. As such, it is important to refer them to professionals or agencies that can provide further help. In doing so, it is important to remove the stigma about talking to mental health professionals by educating our families and friends that talking to these professionals does not indicate a sign of mental illness.
Also, referrals should not mean abandonment. We should still offer assistance and stay in touch with our at-risk friend or family member. Remember, it is important to regularly check on someone who is feeling suicidal and to not let them stay by themselves. Genuine support and care go a long way.
My young friend told me he was glad someone was there to lift him when he was at his lowest point. He says he still struggles with feelings of sadness. What changed, however, is that he now knows that he is not alone. If you need help, call the City Health Services Office (0919-069-6361), Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center-Psychiatric Department (661-7910), Department of Health-Cordillera Mental Health (0938-757-6458), Philippine Mental Health (0995-093-2679/0918-402-9832), and the National Center of Mental Health 24-hours hotline (0917-899-8727/0966-351-4518/0908-639-2672).
Suicides are preventable. Suicide is not the way out. Together, much can be done to build a better way out.