Groups unify action to address suicides
Mental health illnesses, a health and social concern said to be formerly unlabelled but has actually been happening even before the Covid-19 pandemic triggered such cases, have recently become a subject of public discussions among health professionals – albeit with care and sensitivity – as a way of tackling the issue following recent incidents of self-harm that led to deaths in the city.
The way the recent incidents, captured on video, spread on social media platforms has been described as disturbing, making health professionals appeal to the public to be mindful of their acts and help in preventing suicide.
In separate public forums and online appeals this week, health authorities underlined the need to normalize conversations on mental health issues not only among vulnerable sectors like the youth but also across all ages, in a bid to erase the stigma felt by those who experience mental disorders and as a way of reaching out to provide proper medical advice and intervention, without having to lose a life through self-harm.
Rufina Calub-Abul, head of the Nursing Department of Saint Louis University, shared the World Health Organization has anticipated that mental health illnesses would be the next pandemic and that by 2030, it is expected as the number one global burden of disease that can be caused by several factors.
Abul said these factors include not only the impacts of social media use but also the changing environment and changes in the dynamics of a family where values systems and personality development of an individual emanate.
“At this time we have already unconventional families, with most of our traditions already forgotten. There have been changes, that is why we also now have to adjust the way we deal with our youth of today,” Abul said.
She said while the reason why these recent incidents are taking place cannot be pinpointed, there is a need to focus on putting all the facts together to find out why these are happening.
To date, there are 700,000 reported suicide cases worldwide annually, excluding those with mental health issues and illnesses, according to the WHO.
Department of Education Baguio Medical Officer IV Mary Libeney Sito said mental health issues resurfaced during the pandemic when everybody was restricted and most had experienced anxiety attacks.
She said one who is committing self harm does not necessarily mean he or she has a mental health problem.
“Everyone has mental health, and it is everyone’s concern. Those who commit self harm may have been caused by a disease, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it is due to a mental health issue,” Sito said, explaining that mental health involves the way one thinks, feels, and act; and the capability to reach one’s goals, cope with the stresses of life, and function productively in the community.
Its continuum or range includes one being healthy, reacting, being injured, or being ill, the latter being the one considered as mental health disease or illness, which depending on triggering factors, may lead to breakdown.
“Therefore, we should be careful of our language, especially to the young, because now things are being sensationalized that when one is only sad, it is being called depression or when overwhelmed with assignments, a person already tends to say he or she is having anxiety attack,” she added.
Ricky Ducas, Baguio’s Mental Health Program manager, said the city has recorded six suicide cases – three males and three females – for the first quarter of 2023, with the last two cases belonging to the 15 to 29 years old age group.
In 2022, there were 33 suicide cases, 37 in 2021, and 30 in 2020.
“Our goal is really zero cases. One is too many when we talk about suicide, because it can be prevented,” Ducas said.
In another forum, Genna M. Hipolito, child and adolescent specialist at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center Department of Psychiatry, said due to the recent self harm cases captured on video that circulated online, she said the hospital has been receiving more patients consulting about mental health issues, reason why there really is a need to talk about it.
“We need to talk about depression and suicide because of the magnitude of the problem. With the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health problems are a silent pandemic already, and we are seeing it now. The mortality from Covid has been lessened, however mental illnesses are becoming a problem and it is manifesting, especially in our community. We need to talk about it because we cannot afford to lose any life. It is really heartbreaking. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Hipolito said.
She stressed the need to not just focus on the problem leading to self harm but on the risk factors because knowing these factors and the symptoms – by the community and the individual concerned – is a key in preventing suicide attempts or addressing mental health issues properly.
“Depression is different from normal sadness. It affects one’s day to day life, interferes with one’s ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun. It is something we see among students. If we are going to compare a student who is not suffering from mental health illness, OK lang sa kanya pero when a person is suffering from depression, anything what we thought is ordinary stress can be a struggle to that person. Waking up in the morning is an effort for them so it is already an achievement because it is not easy for them.
We have to know the symptoms of depression. If we see someone having the feeling of sadness that is persistent, emptiness na minsan na may problema man o wala, it’s there, among other risk factors, we reach out and listen to them and ask them to ask for help. We, the community, play a role in preventing depression and mental health disorders, especially among our students, as well as in preventing suicide,” Hipolito said.
If one is having depression, she said it can be overcome by asking for help as early as one can because if it already becomes severe, an individual no longer has the capability to ask help, which is more detrimental.
She shared what one can do when having difficulties that are making one depressed:
Talk to your parents. If they are the source of depression, there are adult figures who could support you;
It is important to accept and share your feelings, as it is more of a debriefing or processing your feelings. Sometimes we do not need advice, but someone who would be there for us and listen to us;
Try not to isolate yourself. Spend time face to face with friends who make you feel good; Cut back on online time because sometimes things are more stressing in social media;
Get involved with activities that you enjoy. Volunteer in and for the community; and
Be good to yourself. It is underrated, but we need to exercise, get ourselves moving, avoid alcohol and drugs, and aim for eight hours of sleep.
“Remember depression is not your fault or caused by something you did wrong. It is real, treatable brain illness or health problem. If exams are overwhelming, talk to teachers or the school counselor. If you have a health concern, talk to your parents. If you have relationship problems, talk to an adult you trust. If you see a friend who is depressed, talk to them. Encourage them to get help. Stick to them through hard times,” Hipolito said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana