Woeful Suicide

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     On February 8, controversial former military chief and Energy Secretary Angelo T. Reyes was reported to have committed suicide while visiting his mother’s grave at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City where he shot himself in the chest using a Caliber .45 pistol which pierced through his heart. Before this incident, he has been in the hot seat due to allegations that he received P50 million in “send-off” money after he retired from the AFP as claimed by retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa.

     On August 2, Attorney Benjamin Pinpin, 32, assistant chief legal counsel of the Development Bank of the Philippines was reported to have strangled himself with a nylon cord in the bathroom of a hotel in Zapote Alabang Road. In a suicide letter, Pinpin revealed how upset he was about being investigated for a P510-million loan granted to a businessman during the past DBP administration. He said he did not want his family to be affected by the controversy.

     On September 19, the news reported that a 13-year old alleged “gay” shot his 17-year old “boyfriend” twice in the head before turning his .22 calibre pistol on himself. This was said to happen inside SM San Fernando, Pampanga in what has been termed as a “crime of passion.” Both teeners died a few days later.

     And on October 27, Martin Guingona Lamb, 20, grandson of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, made the news when he jumped off to his death from the 31st floor of a hotel in Muntinlupa City before dawn. Police said Lamb was having drinks with his friend at the hotel bar before the incident happened. His friend told the police that Lamb talked about his problems. 

     These are just some of the high profile reported cases of suicide that happened this year. There are more news of people committing suicide, and many more cases in the country went unreported, and statistics on suicide are also blurry.

     A study entitled, “Suicide in the Philippines: Time Trend Analysis (1974-2005) and Literature Review” by Maria Theresa Redaniel,  David Gunndell (of the University of Bristol in United Kingdom) and May Antonnette Lebanan-Dalida (of the University of the Philippines-Manila) posted in BMC Public Health website this year, said that more women than men attempt suicide in the Philippines, but as seen in most other countries, the case fatality is higher in males due to their preference for more violent/lethal methods of suicide. The maleto-female ratio for suicide (3.3:1) in the Philippines is higher than in China or India but comparable to that seen Thailand, Japan and New Zealand.

     The study also said that suicide attempts and mortality were generally higher in adolescents and young adults than in the older age group. This contrasts with patterns seen in most countries where rates tend to increase with age. This could be due to increased vulnerability of young people to social stressors. Adolescence is a period of life changes and most teenagers struggle with issues such as independence and developing a sense of identity and a system of values and responsibilities.

     Meanwhile, a Department of Health survey in 2007 found that 15 out of 900 teenagers tried to commit suicide.

     Dr. Dina Nadera, a psychiatrist and dean of the University of the Philippines Open University, said suicide is so sensitive an issue that, in fact, the 2004 Philippine Health Statistics euphemistically called it “intentional self-harm.” Quite often, too, families would have the cause of death listed as something other than suicide, she added.

     As Michael Tan, anthropologist, wrote in his column “Pinoy Kasi” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 8, “The suicide rate in the Philippines is relatively low compared to other countries’. This is explained by the fact that the country has a Catholic majority population. Although most major religions look negatively at suicide, the Catholic Church tends to be the most judgmental, with threats of eternal damnation and some Catholic priests refusing a church burial.”

     But as to cases of depression, the World Health Organization, says otherwise. The Philippines has the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. In 2004, there were over 4.5 million cases of depression reported in the country and 3 per cent of Filipinos were clinically diagnosed as depressed. However, of the 90 depressives, only 30 will seek help. The other 30 will suffer the symptoms but will be ashamed to seek help because of the stigma associated with the illness. These symptomatics would rather keep it to themselves and suffer in pain and in silence. The other 30 will suffer the symptoms not knowing what is wrong with them.

     Knowing what depression is all about is already a big step in managing the illness. There is an urgent need to empower individuals suffering from the illness with resources, professional help and organizational linkages that can open new doors and bring light in their journey of suffering and pain to that of positive self discovery and well-being. The families and friends of people suffering from depression are equally important and they need to know and understand the illness to enable them to respond and provide constructive support to their loved ones during these difficult times.

     On September 9, a day ahead of the World Suicide Prevention Day, the DOH joined the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation - a non-government organization that advocates for better understanding of depression, in several activities targeting the youth in leading schools and universities, particularly holding lectures and discussions on depression and suicide.

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