Line of Hope

By Lorraine LorenzoJuly 30, 2017

‘Know that you’re not alone, and someone can help’
IF WE’RE TO consider the suicide statistics from the Department of Health’s National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), it seems that there’s nothing to be alarmed when it comes to the country’s mental health issues.
On the average, only 2.9 out of 100,000 Filipinos commit suicide in a year—one of the lowest in the ASEAN region, and a far cry from countries like Korea, Japan, and the US which averages 19 to 50 individuals committing the fatal act.
But NCMH Chief Dr. Bernardino Vicente believes otherwise.
“2.9 actually reflected a steady growth compared to previous years, so there’s an urgent need to address it,” he revealed.

Copycat case
Citing population increase, the role of mass media, and even access to social media, Dr. Vicente shares that there’s been a rise of copycat suicide cases since 2014.
Copycat suicide is the emulation of another suicide that a person with severe mental disorder encounters through first-hand experience or exposure to various medium like television and the internet. Because these information is accessible to almost everyone, there are those who are susceptible to suicide ideation.
“When comedian Robin Williams died because of suicide in 2014, there was a sudden increase of people letting their friends and family know that they are contemplating the same thing,” Dr. Vicente said. Almost the same happened recently when Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington tragically took his own life after battling depression.
“We live in a very complicated society now. All the information one needs can be found in the internet like steps on how to commit suicide or even live videos of people killing themselves. Kids are especially vulnerable. The rise of OFWs has also weakened the nuclear family. Most of the time kids grow up without the guidance of both parents, and the grandparents who are taking care of them can’t cope up with the changes happening to a child. Stress from school can really get to him, so we get cases of high school students already needing help for mental issues.”
Dr. Vicente also clarified that although an issue, suicide is not a diagnosis, but a manifestation of one’s problem in mental health.
“What we really aim is to better address the problem of mental health issues to prevent it from ending into a suicide,” he said.
Government efforts
The NCMH has five main programs when it comes to mental health. First is wellness which aims to develop the Filipino mindset to be resilient by promoting proper information and to prevent factors that could affect one’s mental health like substance abuse. Next in their program is addressing Extreme Life Experiences (ELE), which covers individuals, families and communities who have been affected by experiences like typhoons, earthquakes, and civil wars, by ensuring that the center is able to assess and conduct seminars through life groups to help them cope from the disaster that happened to them.
The next program addresses clinical cases—individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety, and other cases that need hospital services.
The fourth program, on the other hand, is dealing with substance abuse, while the last program is how to treat neurological disorders like epilepsy and dementia.
Among the five, the NCMH through the Department of Health, aims to translate their services and expertise to a wider community reach by helping regional hospitals prepare for mental health cases.
“On a regional level, we aim to prepare health care physicians in regional hospitals on how to deal with mental health issues. This means training them to diagnose basic psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, depression and anxiety disorder,” said Dr. Vicente.
The NCMH is also pushing that mental disorders be qualified under the DOH’s Free Medicine Access Program.
“This will be a big help to our cause, because then all individuals with mental cases can avail of free treatment that can turn their life around.”

Suicide prevention
There are three signs that can warn people if their loved ones is susceptible to suicide, according to Dr. Vicente.  
“Always remember the three H: ‘Hopelessness’ as though there’s no more tomorrow, ‘Helplessness’ because they believe that no one can help them, and ‘Haplessness’ because they don’t feel any happiness at all, in fact some people hardly feel anything anymore. When this three signs are evident in a person, the best way you can help them is to encourage them to get professional help. Suicide is that one exception where we involve family members and friends of patients if they confide to us that they are contemplating it.”
HOPElines are available to address the issue, he said.
“Sometimes all we really need is an option, a referral of people who could help us. That’s the first step. To know that you’re not alone, and someone can help.”
To get in touch with the DOH HOPElines, call: 804-HOPE (4673) or 0917-558-HOPE (4673).