Childhood and Adolescent Suicide Deaths in the Philippines

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mariannet amperIf you read today’s papers, [tag]Mariannet Amper[/tag], a 12 year old girl from Davao died of suicide out of despair for her family’s impoverished life. Yesterday, Nel, a 14 year old boy climbed a flyover in Iloilo in a suicide attempt apparently fuelled by rugby. A few weeks back, Julie wrote about Kristen Ariane Cuenca, a third grader who jumped off from the fourth level of a building of Malate Catholic School because of depression. She was only 9 years old.

These stories are alarming since these kids are so young and they all happened in a span of less than one month. To think that in my radio interview last Monday, I received 3 phone inquiries about suicide and depression. I was unprepared to handle suicide questions because I am not an expert in suicide though I have read a lot of materials on the subject matter in the course of my research on grief education. I have also talked to a few parents who lost their child by suicide. Instead, I referred them to a psychiatrist so a diagnosis could be made. There could be more [tag]childhood suicide[/tag], [tag]adolescent suicide[/tag] or even [tag]suicide[/tag] attempts that are not reported in the news.

Who is to blame? What causes these kids to turn to suicide as the answer to their pain?

What abot Mariannet?

In her October 5 entry, Mariannet wrote: “Parang isang buwan na kaming absent. Hindi na kasi nakin (sic) binibilang ang absent ko. Hindi ko namalayan na malapit na pala ang Pasko.” [It feels as if we’ve been absent for a month. They’re not counting my absences anymore. I just realized that Christmas is just around the corner.

Mariannet died of suicide because she could not endure their family’s financial situation any longer. You remember Belle’s story on her humble beginnings? Just like Mariannet, Belle’s father was jobless. This did not take away Belle’s dream of attaining an education. If she did have some money, she walked to school because it was a choice between transportation or food. Millions of Filipinos are living below poverty level but then not all children are resilient like Belle.

Poverty, per se, did not kill Mariannet.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque is not discounting the possibility “that there could be some pathological underlying reasons” for the suicide, adding that Amper’s reaction of taking her life to the problems of hunger and poverty was “unusual.”

It doesn’t mean, however, that the government should not work against fighting poverty or we should remain indifferent to the poverty situation in the Philippines.

Let’s look at Nel’s attempted suicide. He says:

“Gusto ko na ring mamatay gusto kong sundan si nanay (I also wanted to die – I wanted to follow my mother),” Nel said.

Instead of pinpointing blame, let’s do our small share by educating ourselves on death by suicide. (Our Compassionate Friends have officially adopted the terms ““died by suicide” or ““died of suicide” to replace the commonly used ““committed suicide” or ““completed suicide.”)

Dr. Philip Chua enumerates risk factors such as mental problems:

….especially major depressive, psychosis, etc. Other factors include substance abuse, family history of suicide, sexual abuse, delinquency, gay and lesbian youth, runaways, juveniles in detention centers, halfway houses, prisons, group homes. Those high-achievers, who may have rigid perfectionist personalities and impulsive behavior are also at an increased risk.

suicide

Dr Chua further explains that stressors contribute to suicide are loss of a loved one through divorce, death or break-up of a relationship; interpersonal or family conflicts. School problems, financial dilemma, family violence are stressors that aggravate the situation because they lesson the much-needed support responses to an adolescent crisis.

My suspicion on media displaying acts of suicide can also contribute to suicide ideation. Dr. Chua agrees that television, newspaper or radio coverage of suicide (or exposure to a recent suicide or suicide attempt in the community) can serve as a trigger for vulnerable adolescents to act on suicidal thoughts and plans. This is what is termed as ““cluster suicides.”

Our children do not readily talk about their suicidal thoughts. They feel relief when a confidant or a medical professional brings up the subject matter to them. Dr Chua adds that : When this comes up, it is best to ask questions in a nonjudgemental, non-threatening and direct manner, like, ““Have you thought of suicide?” ““Are you thinking about suicide now?” ““Do you have a plan for doing it?” If answer is affirmative, ““What is your plan for committing suicide?” A positive response indicates the need for more professional questioning and assessment of risk factors, and the plan of counseling or therapy is based on the degree of risk.

Here are some points raised by Dr. Chua.

  • Is depression associated with suicide?

    Clinical evidences show that depression is very strongly associated with suicide. The symptoms and signs include depressive mood, reduced interest or pleasure, isolation from family and friends, weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping a lot), fatigue, diminished ability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness, irritability, unusually argumentative and temperamental behavior, hyperactivity, delinquency, school failure, repeated accidents or injuries, sexual acting out, etc.

  • What can friends and family members do?

    Family members and friends, who notice signs of depression and/or suspect suicidal tendency should show understanding and compassion without anger or condescension to the individual in distress. They should reassure the person that his/her current emotional condition is temporary and treatable. They should suggest professional help but this should be done without intimidation or coercion. A ““no-suicide” contract, where the adolescent pledges not to attempt self-destruction, is often helpful but cannot be totally and solely relied upon.

  • What is the best plan for treatment?

    If suicidal tendency is suspected, a family member or a friend, who is close to the adolescent, may suggest professional help. Nowadays, a visit to the psychologist or psychiatrist is commonplace. One does not have to be ““crazy” to see psychiatrist. Many politicians, head of states, businessmen, actors and actresses routinely seek counseling for prophylaxis, to prevent, minimize or learn how to handle stressors in life. The counselor will have interview sessions with the adolescent, the family members and friends, most often separately, and make an assessment of the case, and tailor the specific management regimen for the individual. Today, more than ever before, medical science has the mind-boggling sophistication to perform ““wonderful miracles,” heretofore unknown to man.

There is just so much taboo associated with mental illness. More than anything else, parents, educators, school counselors and even family doctors need to be aware of suicide as an illness and know when to detect and prevent it. In the US, children with suicide ideation are brought in as an emergency case so that they would be given therapy or medication. Friends and school counselors are encouraged to report any suicide ideation. Sure the private schools are probably on top of the situation. But what are the government doctors doing about it in the Philippines? (UPDATE : Gov’t takes responsibility for girl’s suicide .

Death by suicide is the most devastating loss among all types of death. One loses a child under very painful circumstances. My heart goes out to these bereaved parents. (Read more on Suicide Awareness and Prevention.)

For Suicide Prevention Hotline in the Philippines
Call Crisis Line of In Touch Community Services! (free and confidential)
+632-8937606 or +632-8937603 (Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm)

Mobile Text messaging: type hello crisisline and send to 2333 (Globe) or 211 (Smart)

Related News Reports/blogs that show balanced reporting as of November 15, 2007

1. From gmanews.tv- The tragic life of Mariannet Amper, or why children commit suicide

2. Rina Jimenez-David wrote column on how Media Reporting Suicide

3. Tess Termulo Her Choice Killed Her

4. Michael Tan on Suicide has no Heroes

6. Michael Tan on Lifelines

Photo: Mariannet Amper with her brother taken from here

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (1354 Posts)

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.


About Noemi Lardizabal-Dado

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.

  • Noemi, I just get an sms from my brother about his prayer for this young girl just as I was reading your post. And there is also this young girl who took several of her mother’s prescription medicines that took her life. The last one hit me hard because she is a neighbor and a close friend of a long-time student. Yes, I did not know her personally but I did get to know her through my student’s eyes, even before she died.

    This is very very sad, and yes, devastating, which could only be one many of the words to be used to describe what we might feel about this. I think with the rising number of children doing this, families should look more into their family dynamics, the church should do some counseling about this and the educational system should also revise their character and values ed curriculum, addressing more pressing concerns, especially with the adolescents.

    Your post is very informative and I will need to digest what you have written to fully understand the intricacies of this happening. Thank you.

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  • It saddens me that there are suicide cases in children. Just this morning I watched the news about this kid who had herself hanged because she cannot take the suffering she has on poverty.

  • @Julie- I have never heard of suicides in the news when I was younger. The most I’ve heard were college students. I wonder if this is just recent. How sad to know of your neighbor.

    @Maki- that’s the Mariannet Amper I was writing about.

  • Lee

    So often, suicide turns out to be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It takes hard work and vigilance to spot signs that young people are sinking into despair. Then it takes skill, patience and understanding to help them understand that there are reasons for hope no matter how bad things seem.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • @Lee- I feel that education on this subject matter starts in the school. They should be able to detect signs. Like you said, it’s difficult to spot the symptons

  • the news on the suicide incidents these days sounds alarming. the 19-year old son of our senior Personnel/HR Officer at work also committed suicide last month. the Mom said the suicide came after her son’s break-up with his girlfriend. now, the Mom is very devastated as she said she has no idea at all that her son was then emotionally troubled. 🙁

  • @Feng- I am wondering if it is just the media that we know about these news. I haven’t really heard of suicide deaths as young as that during my time. The thing is I am very aware of drepession and suicide because of my exposure to families that lost their child through suicide.

  • I’m glad you said poverty didn’t kill the girl. I wanted to say the same, but refrained from doing so. While I agree that the government should step up on its efforts to reduce porverty, I’m not one with the media in painting a picture of a victim. This isn’t leaving her memory any sense of dignity at all.

  • @Althea- Right now, I am watching Crossroads in ANC Channel and all they are talking is poverty. I sent a reaction via text that Crossroads should also discuss suicide , depression and treatment because Mariannet’s death is not the first case of suicide in the past month.

  • The sad news about Mariannet Amper is really an eye-opener. I read this interesting article from a bishop about it too: http://tinyurl.com/2fl4ey

  • @Maki- The bishop’s article denies the fact that the girl might have been sick of depression. Poverty which led to her despair is the trigger. Mariannet couldn’t cope. There could be other kids like Mariannet suffering from depression. Sure, let’s fight poverty but let’s educate our teachers, doctors, parents on suicide prevention.

  • I watched this on our local news broadcast here in Davao. Just saddening that a girl that young could think about taking her own life. A number of factors probably pushed her to the brink, including their extreme poverty. 🙁

  • jon

    Althea, I agree with you, Romanticizing her death might lead to hysteria or what Noemi wrote about cluster suicides. Ugh. Other young kids could follow suit. I agree that suicide prevention should be known to educators, parents and the general public.

  • @Andrew- She thought there was no way out. Most deaths by suicide are due to depression caused by chemical imbalance. I am really sad and I want to prevent suicide .

    @Jon- cluster suicides are real. let’s hope the media does not overplay the poverty situation. But it’s a popular topic. Suicide Prevention takes a backseat.

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  • These stories are really sad, Noemi.
    Yes, I believe in the effect of media resulting to cluster suicides. There has to be more campaigns to educate parents foremost. As parents, we should teach our children emotional strength and encourage open communication.

  • well these stories are very sad,Imagine little angels like them committed a suicide at their young age they probably playing right? But I guess depression in one of the big reason why these young people do suicide, me I also felt depression and sometimes thinking to end my life…its not that people committed suicide have problems in thinking maybe they are every emotional that they could not take longer the burden that they carry…I also heard a story about a young girl committed suicide because of family problem . i can relate the story to what happen to these young people

  • i will never understand how children so young ever get depressed. they only cry when they hurt themselves while playing. things like food, clothing, shelter, electric bills, home mortgages, increasing fuel prices were never in my vocabulary when i was a child. parents who cannot afford to feed their children, much less themselves should not have them in the first place. problem is, it is usually the unemployed couples living in squalid environs who just love racking up the numbers, never less than 3 in most cases. i think marinnet had a lot of siblings too, just as neglected and unfed as she was. children are a gift only if you can provide for them. they become victims if you can’t.

    my two cents worth lang po.

  • april tolosa

    im so sad to hear that news…… she sacrifice for her family…

  • @chateau- yes right from the start we teach our kids to be open with their feelings. Feelings are not wrong though and we teach them on how to deal with it, move on and do something constructive with it.

    @blueangel- if the thought persists to end your life, seek help. Know that there are choices.

    @arpee- a lot of factors play in the depression aggravated by family problems, probably even child abuse. I heard the mayor wants Mariannet’s body exhumed to check if there was foul play or child abuse.

    @april- um sacrifice? I don’t think so. She didn’t die of suicide to sacrifice her family.

  • u no wat i felt the same way after my dad died i was only 12 and i did not no how 2 handle it i almost went 4 it then i thought about my mom and she helped me through it so even at the hardest times when u feel like ur not going 2 make it u can and dont ever doubt ur self keep ur head up.

  • Losertodeath

    Hi,

    Thanks for this website.

    I’m a father of 3, my wife is sick, we’re broke. Now, we’re living with my own parents, and I’m pissed. I’m not a drug addict, I don’t drink alcoholic, but I smoke. I decided to mass-suicide in order to end this up. I’ll force every member of my family to drink poison, when I confirm that all of them are dead then I’ll drink too. I know this sounds crazy but I really don’t have a
    choice. No anti-psycho doctors can help me, my problem is money, it’s been seven years full of misfortune. Not even religious approach can save me, don’t even mention it because religion caused me terrible bankruptcy! Don’t worry about my name, you people will gonna watch, hear and read it on local news for sure. What a good new year! No more life, end of all problems. I hereby
    admit that I’m a responsible for murdering my own family including myself. I’m a loser, don’t imitate me, I’m a failure, and I can’t take it anymore.

    losertodeath

    • lovely

      hey…. i know people seem to forget that there is still hope every after our breath… i just hope you never did what posted here… i mean, your plan sounds so devastating… if you think you cant have hope for your self, don’t let your family feel the same way as you do… they could have a better life… please don’t end your life just because you felt you never have fortune… in fact, you’re lucky enough having your family and being through a lot of things… i know its hard, my family were experiencing the same thing but we try to hold on to each other,,, don’t let that little problem ruin the beautiful life waiting for you… for 20years, i could never say that we had a lot for our expenses but i have learned to enjoy my life having this simplicity of life… coz i know each of us were working to have the happiness a money could not give us… its my family that brings joy to me, so if you would end your life and the life of your family, maybe you would lose the chance of seeing the happiness lying inside each of your heart… GODBLESS YOU!!!

  • omg i feel the same way!!!

  • Losertodeath

    Good news, I’m still alive, my family too. I also quit smoking. You people feeling wanna kill yourselves, if you’re a smoker I encourage you to kill that habit instead, you’ll feel better and your mind will function properly. Breath fresh air not carbon monoxide from cigarettes, air is free smoke is not and it will ruin you little by little creating much more stress and anxiety then end up to think commit suicide.

    We people here should form ourselves as N.G.O get some funds somewhere and conduct free seminars on schools and baranggays so formally we can help and encourage our fellow countryman how to be brave and not suicidal.

  • hello ms Noemi. I’m a senior from Miriam College taking up AB Psychology. My thesis mates and I are currently finishing our study on the suicidal tendencies among Filipino children. Thanks for this website. We have added some of the content to our review of related literature and discussion. Also, do you have other predictors of suicidal tendencies among Filipino children? Ours are the following: Subjective Happpiness, Perceived Family Support, Gender, and Socio Economic status (proxied by Type of school, whether public or private school). Our results revealed that all four are not predictors of suicidal tendencies.
    What do you think are other predictors of suicidal tendencies? thank you!

  • as†ral_wakoko

    Hi..
    ..life in this world is really harsh these days. I can’t really imagine that this thing happens in the Philippines and on top of that to innocent children. I’m a psychology undergraduate in Cebu and somehow I was hoping to find stories on teenager suicidal ideation for my research.I was not expecting such news about these children.. and I guess it was somewhat shocking that kids could do these things..perhaps they have been too much exposed to tv shows depicting suicidal situations. But I guess no one is to blame for his.. we cannot just point our hand to anybody or to the parents of the victim. ..
    I think we should really be at watch to everyone especially our realtives.. anybody could become a victim.

  • the_bassist

    marijuana has a bad image in our society but I think this is the cure for the depressed people and salvia, salvia makes you enter into another dimension and help you find yourself and it will help you realize that the world needs you and there are many good things in this world.. the good thing is marijuana and salvia are organic..i hope that people will realize that organic drug is not bad but helpful to people like me who is a hikikomori and depress..

    • Hi the_bassist. Where do u get marijuana? I am also suicidal, been depressed for 3 years, I am 20 years old now. I see no hope in life. What is the reason for all things? Please don’t tell me about the Patriarchal God, everybody knows it’s middle-aged belief. I know about the one life, and us being part of the whole, Life, God . But still, with all the problems continuing to exist with me, with this world, I just LOSE all my interest in life. What is the reason? What is the reason to live? I don’t like to think of the Past, I don’t like to think of the future, and there is only Now. But no matter what, still the Mind comes back and you have to deal with this, with your family egocentered bullshit, needing to do this and that. I just want to be FREE

      • ..you don’t have to be feeling ‘bullshit’ about anything around or in you…just as all come from nothing, all too go back to nothing…by then, the happy or the unhappy ones all share the same thing…that is nothing…by then, who will shout in pain, who will complain about the indifference and meaninlessness of this world…who will cry or who will rejoice…by then, all is but fair…i am excited to be there…by now…let anything unfold its pages of its chapters as it too moves towards the final destination which is but NOTHING…

      • hi…im doing a term paper about suicide among filipino..if u can only share you’re thoughts with me,why you feel that way i would be very pleased to listen.also it would help me a lot with my research right now…pm me pls

  • Nitrox920

    I feel so down right now. I don’t know if I can take it anymore. I am thinking of ending my life. I am a father of 3 ( 1yr old, 5 yrs old and a 7 yrs old son) and as of the moment my wife is the one supporting our family. Lost a lot of money few years back during the time of PGMA due to her stupidity in handling smuggled sugar. her stupidity and greediness cause my business to fold up.( economic reason)

  • life is really harsh,disappointing and so depressing..
    but all of it is just a part of our life..sometimes we feel bad ,sometimes we feel great..
    all of it make the thing we call life..it’s not worth living thinking you wanna die..it will make the situation worse…why not think about the benefits you’ll get just being happy..i know it’s hard..problems are there to test how well you cope up with life and in the end when you finally solve it, you’ll feel victory..