Mental health awareness in the Philippines

There was news about an apparent suicide floating around the office the past week.

A relatively healthy employee, dead at thirty.

It would have been more shocking had this instance been the victim’s first attempt but I believe it wasn’t.

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According to people who knew him well this was the third and, unfortunately, successful time the guy carried out the act.

That the person, according to some, gave up on life or “Sumuko sa buhay.”


mental_healthApparently he left a string of digital bread crumbs leading to the ultimate destination days prior to his demise.

In the office Lync communicator alone (shown to me after the news broke), I’m sure those who always chat with the guy or checks on his presence every now and then probably didn’t miss the note he wrote: “It will soon be over. 0315.”

Of course just because someone wrote a cryptic passage in his account does not necessarily mean the person’s up to something dark or sinister. Under normal circumstances you can probably attribute that to a contrived attempt at being cute or maybe even vanity.

But in this case, normal is about as far away as you can get, as things get a more colorful perspective if you are aware of the person’s history. And what even made that thing more alarming is the followup status messages in Facebook that, for all intents and purposes, were actually suicide notes that people apparently just ‘liked’ or commented on.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this little incident, is that the average person in the Philippines still has little or no grasp of how important information like knowing a person’s past attempts at suicide can help prevent another one from happening if people around act accordingly and with urgency when signs of any suspicious behavior from the person comes out of nowhere.

It doesn’t matter what the precipitating factor was: failed love affairs, doomed careers, isolation, etc. Every suicide ever committed always goes back to some sort of severe clinical depression that, for all its romantic and literary undertones and glorification, really is a disease.

A life-threatening one at that.

Unfortunately for us here in the sunny side of the Republic Of The Philippines, mental health care as a branch of medicine is still relegated in the dark ages of development. You’d often hear comments about it like the person was just having a bad day at work or, maybe, he’d pull out of it as soon as he gets a good night’s sleep.

Or the person’s just suffering from a temporary case of the blues. Nothing a few cases of beer or night out in some strip bar won’t fix.

I am not a psychiatrist nor a clinical psychologist but I do know that a disease won’t go away without a doctor’s guidance and proper medication. And if people’s assertions are to be believed that the person have had several attempts at taking his own life in the past, that could only mean that there’s some sort of severe clinical depression at work that needs professional help that no amount of pep talk from friends or “bonding” will solve. One does not need to be a doctor to know that a person vomiting blood needs help ASAP.

I expected to hear reactions of people close to the guy making frantic calls to the HR or immediate family upon reading those statements but none of that has surfaced so far. His sister did allegedly see it (probably not an avid Facebook user), but by then it was already too late.

I can’t help but think that the person was actually trying to ask people for help to stop him via those cryptic updates.

And that is the saddest part. That people’s perception of suicide is a failing of character/fortitude in the tough challenges of life. That’s true to some extent, but a disease is a disease. And one cannot hope to get cured by fortitude alone.

R.I.P, man. Hope you already have the tranquility you never found in this world.

21 Replies to “Mental health awareness in the Philippines”

  1. Usually people who are at a risk for suicide will not let anybody know what they are up to until they attempt it. Sometimes they succeed sometimes they don’t. Psychiatrists are using suicides to gain some recognition as a necessary part for the health of the citizens of our country but we don’t even know if they can effectively prevent suicidal people from committing suicide. What I notice from psychiatrists is that anything you tell them they can and will use against you to prove that you are mentally ill. And once you are labelled mentally ill the label stays with you forever. Then they tell you to lie about it when looking for a job. Who are they to say that a person is less normal than others? Is it their education that makes them qualified to say that one is not normal?

    1. Textbook Psychiatrists. I think the existence of Psychiatrists who actually help their patients instead of slapping the “mentally ill” label on them is really rare. Maybe they keep slapping the label over their patients even after their field has already gone through groundbreaking changes on how patients should be treated so that they will have more profit. Because hey! The law says they need to be compensated for every time they render their services.

  2. SAD…RIP….

    BUT even sadder? Most people do not have time, and some do not give a shit, to take the time to notice nevermind prevent a suicide.

    just the way it is. with 8 billion people on the planet,humans are not exactly a rare commodity.

  3. Committing suicide is NOT a disease. Its a means to an end (literally).

    I really dont know and dont understand the point of this article. In a country with a population of close to 100m, suicide – how tragic that is – is not and should not be your biggest concern. To save a few souls from killing him/herself is not gonna solve your biggest problems your country is facing. Pls start worrying about the number of people that gets born in your country. It exceeds by far the number of suicides. There are essential issues and there are side issues. Suicide is most definately a side issue in your country.

    1. you could have said good riddance about the dead person mentioned in this article and saved yourself a lot of time.=)

      pontificating about “serious” issues won’t hide your bigoted views.


        1. Either way, sidelining one problem in case of another isn’t the right way to go about this. Just because there are more people being born than there are offing themselves in the Philippines is no excuse.

          Suicide is a universal issue that affects everyone from all walks of life and nationality and we all have to do our part one way or another.

        2. Serge,
          I want to share 3 points with you:
          1) the number of suicide cases in a country is neglectable. So it should not be a nation’s/nationwide concern but only for next of kin, the friends and professionals whose job it is to handle such cases.
          2) if one of my sisters or one of my friends would come to me disclosing to me he/she wants to commit suicide, I will do everything within my powers to convince him/her not to do it.
          3) if one of my sisters or one of my friends will come to me with the intend to commit suicide and he/she can convince me thats the only way to get rid of his/her problems then I will help him/her so that he/she will reach its destiny in the smoothest way possible. And I will always keep that secret with me bec he/she probably asks me to keep it a secret (the suicide).

        3. The only scenario I can possibly accept the voluntary “shutdown” of their own lives is if they are physically and mentally incapable of living through everyday life (i.e. being a vegetable.). Committing suicide should never be the end all-be all method to getting out of one’s mess. Always attempt to do option 2 as much as you can. Option 3 is a defeatist route of the highest order and just shows that you are endorsing said behavior therefore never solved the issue in the first place.

        4. In my circle of friends (past & present) I never met (up close and personal) someone who wanted to commit suicide.
          But I do think he.she has the right to step out with dignity (in his/her own right). I will try and talk him/her out of it but if that is in vain then I will assist him/her the best I can. Never actively bec that can be regarded as accessory to murder.

          I hope I will always be able to take someone out of it.

  4. Hey, good thing you raised this thing about mental health. I’m supposed to come up with an article of my own, but it gets stalled. I might need to finish it up sometime.

    My concern on mental health is how many people are not receiving the care they need. There are taong grasa who speak to someone imaginary, those are schizophrenics or those with delusional disorders. There are people with autism who are kept in cages in the provinces and are not being given adequate care. Some other people are saying, don’t give these people any help, let them rot, because they’re useless anyway, and helping them will pull too many taxes from us. But in time, you will need to pay for dealing with these people, even if it’s more of security measures or other things.

    Those same people might say, suicide is proof that the person doing it is stupid. The world is better without them, good riddance. I don’t think so. As psychologists say, suicide can be accompanied by many mental issues that could have been prevented with adequate intervention. Suicide can be stupid, but that doesn’t mean the person is stupid. Sometimes, it can happen because other people who can do something are not responsible enough.

    Mental health problems are among the issues that prove we are all responsible for each other, and we can’t just seclude ourselves from these issues. Sooner or later, we all have to be part of social intervention.

  5. Depression is a Mental Illness. A person with Depression MUST Consult a competent Psychiatrist; and Must be counseled by a competent Psychologist.

    Depression is caused by unbalanced Chemicals in the brain , and stomach. One of the chemicals is called:Serotonin.

    New Technology to treat Depression is on research for Electronic Stimulation in the brain. It has produced good results. However, more understanding is needed for such procedure. To see the negative side effects.

    Do not be ashamed to ask for help. Do not just hope that Depression will go away. You need treatment from a Competent Psychiatrist.

  6. Although the act of suicide is not something that solves problems, it is also equally unhealthy to sweep problems under the rug like most Filipinos do. Drinking and smoking your problems away won’t really make them vanish, and neither does words of encouragement, togetherness with family and friends, praying, etc. At the end of the day it is still our decisions that make or break our everyday problem-solving needs. That being said, Filipinos who don’t kill themselves and yet try to avoid facing problems do a different kind of suicide, a psychological one – which is entrap themselves in the illusion that problem = no problem. “Walang pera? Walang pagkain? Baon sa utang? Si tatay lasenggo/sugarol? Si kuya at ate tiglima na anak pero parehong walang trabaho? Ok lang masaya naman kasi magkakasama ang buong pamilyang mamumuti ang mata sa gutom!” Screw logic.

    So now I don’t know which kind of suicide is worse. At least depression can be slowed down by things like psychotherapy, and some have lived meaningful lives afterwards. But the Filipino way of committing (psychological)suicide??? Madness at its finest. There seems to be no cure.

  7. To look the other way; when things are Bad is not Depression. It is Irresponsibility, at its worst. It is practiced by mostly poor Filipinos.
    Maybe, because of the way they were brought up…

  8. Since this is the poster country for ‘psychic surgery,’ I wonder how many well-meaning but woefully ignorant family members are still hiring exorcists to drive the ‘demons’ out of their schizophrenic children?

    When I’ve wondered about all those inevitable people in low income families living with unrecognised or misunderstood mental illnesses, I’ve been told “we don’t have that in the Philippines.”

    It’s like saying no one was autistic before it was diagnosed in the 1940s, then suddenly all these people starting getting it! Must be the vaccinations…


    Maybe if you know someone who have:

    Depressed mood

    Sleep decreased (Insomnia with 2-4 am awakening)
    Interest decreased in activities (anhedonia)
    Guilt or worthlessness (Not a major criteria)
    Energy decreased
    Concentration difficulties
    Appetite disturbance or weight loss
    Psychomotor retardation/agitation
    Suicidal thoughts

    Refer them to a psychiatrist

  10. Not just the stigma but for ages the govt’s insensitivity to Filipinos’ mental health through poor budgetary support as well as the ineffectiveness of psychiatry as a medical science is the problem. Why even those who can afford the expensive private treatment see very superficial beneficial results. My sister has been mising for a year since Sept. 16, 2015 after what looks like a relapse which was sudden and undetected though she’s been under treatment for 20+ years. Seems hopeless. No thanks to God even.

  11. How come do you expect any Failipinos to help a distressed human being?
    You can die on the middle of the day in the middle of the street the only one who will stop are the one who will go trough your pockets, wallet and watch.
    You get it by a car, bike, bus? The driver will do his best to run away…
    That’s the real Philippines where life has no value especially the life of others…
    Maybe it would help the world of they all commit suicide because everything in that place is hopeless…

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