The question foremost on people’s minds days after iconic bag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain ended their lives early this month is: Why?
How could two individuals on top of their game discard what to many of us is the “perfect life” — one burnished with fame and fortune, awards and recognition?
There may be no easy answers, but the question surfaces what is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the issue: How much do we really know about suicide beyond the headlines, myths and statistics?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, with many more suicide attempts going unreported. Worldwide, 78 percent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
In the Philippines, a 2017 WHO report put the age-standardized suicide rate at 5.8 for male, 1.9 for females, and 3.8 for both sexes.
The rate is based on the number of cases affected per sample size of 100,000 people.
According to the WHO fact sheet, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds, although a rise in the number of suicides among the elderly in recent years has been noted as well.
Although the suicide rate in the Philippines is lower compared to other countries, the figures have steadily risen from 1992 to 2012.
In 2012 alone, it was found that as many as seven Filipinos took their own lives in a day.
The reason, experts now agree, is often a combination of factors that build up to the ultimate breaking point.
Among them, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are relationship problems, a recent crisis or a looming one, substance abuse, a severe physical illness, financial or work-related problems, a criminal or legal concern, and the loss of a loved one.
Mental health experts have also noted that up to 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness that “might be undiagnosed, underdiagnosed or undertreated.”
Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness remains a major issue that has prevented people from seeking help or even acknowledging it.
Misinformation and myths also surround depression, which can trigger suicide. Many people regard it as either an ailment that can be treated one-time with medication, or a dark mood one can overcome with determined cheer.
WHO defines depression as a common mental disorder that interferes with one’s daily life, and is associated with sadness, loss of interest, feelings of guilt, low self-worth, disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, and loss of concentration and appetite.
This second leading contributor to ill health affects people of all ages and economic classes, but studies have found that young people exposed to social media are particularly vulnerable.
Bashing on social media is the new cause of depression, said Dr. Eric Tayag of the Health department. Despite its name, the platform is less social than it sounds and may even prevent real-time interaction, with many young people on it becoming at risk of ending up more isolated from friends and family, unable to reach out for help.
A welcome development is the recent passage of the Comprehensive Mental Health Act, which now gives Filipinos access to mental health care in the country’s health delivery system.
The law also seeks to integrate mental health promotion in both educational institutions and the workplace, to address the stigma and discrimination usually associated with mental illness.
Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial also noted that the 2017 DOH budget plan has allocated P100 million for mental health drugs, and P1 billion for the upgrading and construction of mental health facilities.
But a lot more can be done, even in one’s personal capacity. Although medication-based intervention may be necessary, mental health professionals suggest that “intrapersonal” intervention is considered more effective.
This involves listening to and talking with depressed people, to help ease them into a more positive view of life, and validate their worth with “supportive understanding and [an] empathetic mindset.”
Trained mental health care providers are ready to listen on the other end of the line through DOH’s Hopeline project, a 24/7 hotline that depressive and suicidal patients, or their concerned loved ones, can call.
The HOPELINE numbers are 8044673, 0917-5584673 or 2919 (Toll Free for all Globe and TM subscribers).
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