The reality of suicide in the Philippines

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Editor’s note: Gia B. Sison is a practicing medical doctor specializing in occupational medicine and is a graduate of the University of Sto. Tomas. She is the national adviser of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition and is a strong mental health advocate. She is a breast cancer survivor for almost four years now, and is currently the Philippine leader for Livestrong Foundation.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. For every suicide, there are many more people who attempt suicide every year. A prior suicide attempt is the most important risk factor for suicide in the general population, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet, updated August 2017.

With World Suicide Prevention Day celebrated this month of September, it is important that suicide awareness campaigns highlight not only the support that is readily available, but also tackle the most uncomfortable question relating to human behavior: Why do people commit suicide in the first place?

It's difficult to understand how a person could not give value to a survival instinct, which is to stay alive from a standpoint of a non-suicidal person. According to Dr. Chiles and Dr. Strosahl’s book “Clinical Manual for Assessment and Treatment of Suicidal Patients,” the thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending.

I wish I had a pill to extend my life as a cancer survivor. On the other end of the spectrum, however, are people who wish for pills to cut their lives short. There are always two sides of a coin. If tossed, the bet is to either live or die; head to live, tail to die. For one man, the coin happened to land on the tail.

The story of Henry

Henry* used to be a happy person. He used to love what he does: a fulfilled man, promoted at an early age. But he found himself in a black hole when his mother died. His wedding was called off a day before it was supposed to happen. The problems seemed insurmountable for Henry to handle; they seemed to be piling up every day. It came to a point when he did not know how to handle or solve them anymore.

The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending.

Support seemed remote. Henry was scared to be seen as the weakling, which is the exact opposite of the image he projects to others and within himself. His mind went blank. He had a packet of sleeping tablets enough to down you for life, got 20, and was ready to pop it all until the thought of his sick father came to mind. When he thought of his father’s recurring words of his will to live, he dropped the pills and ran to him for solace. He poured his heart out, which was the first time in his life when support seemed to be real.

Knowing the problem, providing support

The Philippine Psychiatric Association, in collaboration with the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health, is currently working on a collaborative project called the Philippine Health Information System-Mental Health (PHIS-MH), which shall contain statistics for several mental health conditions including suicide in the Philippine setting.

In a 2017 report by WHO, the age-standardized suicide rate in the Philippines is 5.8 for male, 1.9 for females, and 3.8 for both sexes. The rate is based from the number of cases affected per sample size of 100,000 people. According to the WHO fact sheet for 2017, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds, and 78 percent of global suicides occur in low and middle-income countries.

The most common methods of suicide globally are ingestion of pesticides, hanging and firearms. Information from the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, in 2016, says that the lifetime risk of suicide for individuals with untreated depression is about 20 percent, whereas the estimated rate of completed suicide for individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder is nine percent.

"I believe that just talking about it makes the intensity of the stigma a little bit less."

Ironically, you will never know if a person will be committing suicide or not, but there are warning signs. I believe that just talking about it makes the intensity of the stigma a little bit less. I have handled patients who have had suicidal thoughts, and I have found that just allowing and accepting the thoughts behind the idea of suicide may be one of the major ways to fight it.

Thoughts of suicide, as deviant as they may sound, represent an attempt to solve problems for some people. It may even represent a desire to make things better. Acknowledging such thinking can open doors. For Henry, being able to put words into his difficulties opened the discussion towards ways that could bring him back on track again, which is how it should be.

It’s time to talk about suicide with the aim to bring its number down to zero. Everyone has the right to live a full life. Stop the stigma, and show support. The world may not be perfect, but each of us can make it a better world to live in.


If you are in need of mental health support please call the 24/7 HOPELINE at (02) 804.4673; (0917) 558.4673 or 2919 (Toll Free for all Globe and TM subscribers).

*The name used in the article is not the real name, any resemblance to it in real life is merely coincidental.