Immediately after the much publicized suicide of a University of the Philippines (UP) Manila student, the number of calls to Hopeline spiked. Hopeline is the suicide counseling hotline set up by the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF).
In 24 hours, starting on March 19, when the suicide was reported, Hopeline received a total of 30 calls, almost twice its daily average of 18. Between March 15 and 21, calls totaled 91.
More telling than the numbers was that young callers, aged 15-21, admitted they had started thinking about suicide because of the incident.
Many parents also called to express concern for their own children, worrying that their kids might be thinking about doing the same thing and admitting that they had started to keep a close eye on them.
That there were those thinking about suicide following the incident was not all that surprising to Dr. Romeo Enriquez, new NGF chair, who expected and feared exactly that development because of the publicity generated by the recent case.
Enriquez, the 2012 president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and total quality management officer of the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City, had in fact warned against copycat suicides.
While alarmed at how people seemed to be contemplating doing a similar thing, NGF, an organization that promotes suicide risk awareness and prevention, was also gratified that the callers had shown greater readiness to talk about the problem.
As the calls revealed, even before the highly publicized case, other concerns had some people already thinking about taking their own lives.
Kids told the trained counselors answering the phones that they were suffering from depression because of bullying (just after the college student’s suicide, a high school student in Batangas was reported to have killed himself because of bullying).
Callers also talked about problems in school—failing grades, failure to meet class requirements, inability to pay tuition and other fees (alleged to be the cause of the UP student’s suicide).
There were those who had substance abuse problems, felt tremendous pressure at work, complained of having to deal with so many demands at home and at work. There were even rape victims in critical need of counseling.
Some parents who were worried about their children asked where they could get professional help for them.
Majority of the callers to Hopeline, which was launched in the last quarter of 2012, were students aged 15-21, parents aged 30-55 and working people aged 22-50.
Suicide remains underreported in the Philippines probably for religious and other sociocultural reasons.
The study “Suicide in the Philippines: Time Trend Analysis (1974-2005) and Literature Review” said: “While rates were lower compared to other countries, there is suggestive evidence of underreporting and misclassification to undetermined injury. Recent increases may reflect either true increase or better reporting of suicides.”
Girls more at risk
Analyzing available data, obtained from Philippine Health Statistics (PHS) produced by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Health Statistics from the National Statistics Office, it found that “among females, suicide rates were highest in 15- to 24-year-olds while in males, rates were similar in all age groups throughout the study period.”
The study found that suicide rates for women in the 15-24 age group (most of whom were still in school) were 50-100 percent higher than in other age groups throughout the study period.
The study suggested a focus on the young, particularly the age group to which the two recent suicides belonged. “While suicide rates are low in the Philippines, increases in incidence and relatively high rates in adolescents and young adults point to the importance of focused suicide prevention programs,” it stressed.
Enriquez—who said family dynamics was critical in preventing suicide—encouraged parents to equip their children with the tools to help them cope with life’s challenges as early as possible, especially in grade school and high school, and train them to deal with life’s disappointments.
Realizing that today’s modern parents might need help as well in dealing with the problem, he said that groups like parent-teacher associations and other organizations could provide the support needed.
Jean Goulbourn, president of NGF, said they were working with the Commission on Higher Education, Department of Education and Department of Social Welfare and Development, among others, in preparing a suicide prevention training manual.
De La Salle Lipa, which hosted last year’s observance of Suicide Prevention Day, offered to pilot test the manual, she added.
The manual, drafted by doctors Cornelio Banaag, Honey Carandang, Eleanor Ronquillo and Ricardo Soler, was designed primarily for use in schools.
NGF already has in place Hopeline, a telephone bank that potential suicides may call. Or troubled kids may also visit www.ngf-hope.org.
Goulbourn said that Hopeline, which relies mainly on volunteers and donations, is operating with Taos-puso and Globe Telecom (for technical support) as major partners.
She said Assistant Health Secretary Elmer Punzalan had assured NGF the Department of Health would help in training activities.
She said they had been wanting to expand Hopeline and suicide prevention programs in schools but they lack funds. She expressed the hope that private corporations would make suicide prevention and intervention one of their corporate social responsibility projects.
Individuals and private groups who may want to support Hopeline and other NGF suicide prevention initiatives can make a deposit to Natasha Goulbourn Foundation savings account
No. 0040491889, Banco de Oro, SM Makati Branch, Ayala Center, Makati City, or call Marco Araneta of NGF at 0917-8725514.