Stop suicide: Ear to listen, shoulder to lean on

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An ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on and arms that care.

Sometimes these are all a person, who is contemplating suicide, needs to keep from taking his/her own life, according to Dr. Romeo Y. Enriquez, new chair of Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) and 2012 president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association.

An ear to listen is what NGF already provides through Hopeline, a hotline potential suicides can call for counseling. In fact, in the 24-hours after the suicide of a University of the Philippines student, Hopeline received almost twice the number of its daily average of 18 callers.

“In some situations, if somebody would just listen with empathy, suicide can be prevented,” says Enriquez, who is the total quality management officer of Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City, Pampanga. But suicidal people think they have no one to talk to and nobody will listen.

Enriquez emphasizes the need for prevention as he expresses the fear of copycat suicides because of several contributing factors. Some television programs, he points out, makes killing one’s self seem so ordinary that some children are beginning to think “it’s normal” to commit suicide.

4 things increase risk

He identifies four things “proven to increase the risk” of people taking their own lives: glorifying/romanticizing suicide, focusing only on the victim’s positive characteristics, presenting a simple explanation for suicide and engaging in repetitive reporting of the incident.”

“When you put a suicide victim on a pedestal, others might follow,” Enriquez cautions.

Enriquez, who stresses the need for people to be alert to signs of trouble and be ready and willing to give the time and attention needed, says parents can start early to teach their children to cope with any challenges in life. They can train their children to deal with life’s disappointments.

Like other experts, he stresses that people are not driven to commit suicide by a single event, no matter how traumatic. Multiple factors, a lot of psychosocial stresses as well as real mental problems, are involved that “even an insignificant event can trigger suicide.”

He underscores the need for people to be trained to recognize danger signs. He says prevention and early intervention do not need psychiatrists, psychologists and other experts. People just have to learn to recognize high-risk cases, know what to do, who to refer them to.

“Most importantly, when these things happen, [people have to know how to behave …] what will the teacher do, what will the class do, what will the principal do? How will they deal with media?” he says. People should also know what to do if a person who tried to commit suicide returns to school or to work.

Starting at home

But prevention has to start at home as “everything goes back to good family dynamics.” The best people [to recognize] the problem are the parents, he says. Given the many pressures on today’s families, however, Enriquez realizes the need to help parents focus on good parenting, marital relationships, for instance.

Human resource departments of companies can help their employees but, for the unemployed or those in the informal sector, other groups, including the Church, can help. He mentions their Holy Rosary Parish where Bishop Pedro David has set up a counseling hotline.

Enriquez feels the media also need orientation on the reporting of suicides. For instance, “they do not have to describe how suicide was committed” or report the incident in such a way that the victim is “ka-level na ng mga artista” (turned into a celebrity). They should not glorify it and should always respect confidentiality, he adds.

Jean Goulbourn, president of NGF, which is promoting suicide risk awareness and prevention, says they are working with the Commission on Higher Education, Department of Education and Department of Social Welfare and Development, among others, in the preparation of a suicide prevention manual. She adds that De La Salle Lipa, which hosted last year’s observance of Suicide Prevention Day, has offered to be the pilot site for the manual.

But Goulbourn laments that mental health is still given low priority, as indicated by the Department of Health’s low—almost nonexistent—budgetary allocation for this field.  The small budget is used mainly for treatment, with very little for prevention.

Enriquez mentions the “Suicide First Aid Guidelines for the Philippines” (Colucci, E., Kelly, C., Minas, H.K. And Jorm, A.F., Center for International Mental Health and ORYGEN Youth Health Research Center,  University of Melbourne, Australia), which gives tips on prevention and intervention that lay people, including parents, can use.

The document resulted from “Mental Health First Aid Guidelines for Helping a Suicidal Person: A Delphi Consensus Study in the Philippines.” Explaining the project, the authors say, “This study aimed to develop guidelines for how a member of the Filipino public should provide mental health first aid to a person who is suicidal.”

Guidelines

An expert panel of 34 Filipino mental health clinicians were consulted in the preparation of the questionnaire, the answers to which were used in drawing up the guidelines.

Among other things, the guidelines list signs that will indicate a person is suicidal. A dramatic change in mood, behavior or appearance; expressing a wish to kill himself/herself verbally or in writing; behaving in ways that are dangerous and life-threatening; setting affairs in order, making contact with people he/she has not communicated with for a while or reconciling with enemies should set alarm bells ringing.

But there are also other signs that do not directly indicate a suicidal tendency like rage, seeking revenge, anxiety, agitation, sleep disturbance, increasing alcohol and/or drug use, excessive smoking, preoccupation with the afterlife, growing interest in religion, etc.

Enriquez and the authors of the guidelines stress that any mention of suicide should be taken seriously, even if said in jest. The guidelines also stress that the problem should be confronted head-on. “Don’t avoid using the word ‘suicide.’ It is important to discuss the issue directly, without expressing fear or negative judgment.”

The guidelines say it is not true that talking about suicide can put the idea in a person’s head. They also debunk the myth that a person who talks about suicide is not seriously considering it.

The guidelines offer suggestions on how to assess the seriousness of a person’s suicidal tendency, how to keep a person at risk safe, how to talk to him/her and when to seek professional help, among other things.

Hopeline can be reached through 804-HOPE(4673), 0917-558-HOPE(4673) and 2919, which are toll free for Globe and Touch Mobile subscribers. They may also visit www.ngf-hope.org.

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