By Chito Chavez
The recent suicide of high profile celebrities has prompted Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte to contemplate on establishing helplines in the city to avert such incidents.
In an interview, Belmonte found the urgency to put up 24/7 suicide prevention hotline in the city citing that self-inflicted deaths are not exclusive only in other countries.
She noted the growing number of Filipinos committing suicide, especially among the youngsters.
Belmonte said the suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade in the United States, as well as the many suicide cases in the Philippines, should serve as a reminder to the government to address the sensitive issue of mental health, particularly depression that often leads to suicide.
“We in the Philippines are not spared from this increasing global trend. Perhaps our city can establish a Helpline similar to the ones in the US and other countries with growing suicide rates,” the vice mayor said as she expressed grief over the deaths of Bourdain and Spade.
“Now, I’m sure everyone is convinced depression when unheeded can lead to suicide. It is a public health issue and the government needs to step up its efforts,” she added.
Back in graduate school, Belmonte said she witnessed the suicide of a fellow student.
“A student jumped from our school building and struck the ground just a few meters from where I was standing. The memory is still very vivid in my mind,” she narrated as she illustrated the importance of addressing depression.
In 2011, Belmonte linked up with Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF), various government agencies, universities, and nongovernment organizations in marking the World Suicide Prevention Day through various activities in Quezon City.
“At that time Jeannie Goulbourn told us we were perhaps the only city government that took her advocacy seriously,” Belmonte recounted, referring to the founder of NGF, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing depression to light through the use of educational lectures, confidential crisis lines and referrals to partner psychologists.
Goulbourn established NGF in 2007 in memory of her daughter Natasha who died in Hong Kong on May 25, 2002, from overmedication after a bout of depression.
Citing government data, Belmonte said at least six individuals commit suicide every day in the country; in 2016 alone, 2,413 suicide cases were recorded and from 2012 to 2016, there were 237 suicides among children aged between 10 and 14.
In its 2017 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the age-standardized suicide rate in the Philippines is 5.8 for male and 1.9 for females per 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 such as the Philippines.
In response, the Department of Health (DOH) launched “Hopeline” in 2016 to serve as the national support hotline for depression and suicide prevention, which, however, is often being criticized for alleged inaccessibility.