How we can help avert a suicide
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Two plays on suicide were staged in Manila pre-COVID-19. In “Every Brilliant Thing” (Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe; Sandbox Collective and 9Works Theatricals) a young girl jots down daily things beautiful with the world, for her depressive mom to read in sick bed after an attempt to end it all. In “Night, Mother” (Marsha Norman; adapted by Philippine Educational Theater Association) a mother tries to snap her daughter out of self-immolation hints. At shows’ end invited psychiatrists fielded questions from the audience. Common in their talks is that suicide can happen within 10-12 minutes of announced intent. So never belittle or deride the person with remarks like, “KSP (kulang sa pansin) ka ba?” or “Didirecho ka sa impiyerno!” Instead stay by the person’s side, listen calmly, and express concern. Then help the person get medical attention, for thoughts of suicide usually arise from mental health problems.

I remembered those while grieving the separate suicides of a colleague’s granddaughter and a friend’s son. The pain of the families was palpable. Blaming themselves, they emotionally can be scarred for years, I read somewhere. Yet, what could they have done? Both tragedies happened in the dead of night, when the persons were home alone. The first had sent loving texts to close relatives; the other bade farewell on Facebook. Nobody noticed until it was too late.

But some desperate persons hint at what they’re planning. They even rehearse. There can be telltale signs of previous attempts: scars on the wrist or neck, though concealed in long sleeves or tattoos. Best for us to be sensitive and observant. More so since suicides in the Philippines are increasing. Calls to suicide hotlines alone multiplied six-fold during the pandemic lockdowns, counselors note. From 2000 to 2016 suicides among Filipino males rose from 4.5 to 5.2 for every 100,000, according to the World Health Organization. Among females it rose from 1.8 to 2.3 per 100,000. Notable was among students, even in medical schools, The STAR reported in Aug. (

Can we somehow discern if and how a loved one would do it? In his book “Talking to Strangers” Malcolm Gladwell posits the “coupling of intent and opportunity” of suicide. That is, attempts are highly affected by the types of opportunities available for the act. Gladwell recounts how famed poetess Sylvia Platt did it in 1963 in London, where she had moved after a harrowing divorce: “She took towels, dishcloths, and tapes and sealed the kitchen door. She turned on the gas in her kitchen stove, placed her head inside the oven, and took her own life.”

Gas was not an odd method of suicide in that period, Gladwell notes; it was in fact the most common and convenient. After World War I most British homes had piped-in “town gas” for stoves and water heaters. Made from coal, it was a mix of hydrogen, nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide, and deadly carbon monoxide. In 1962, the year before Platt ended her life, suicides numbered 5,588 in England and Wales. Of those, 2,469, or 44.2 percent, did so as Platt did. Carbon monoxide was then Britain’s leading cause of self-harm. Overdosing on pills or jumping off a bridge didn’t come close.

But town gas was dirty and eventually became expensive. In the mid-‘70s British homes shifted to natural gas (methane) that contained no carbon monoxide. Suicides on the whole dropped. All one got from laying the head on the oven door and inhaling methane was a slight headache and crick in the neck.

Gladwell also tells of the fight to install suicide-prevention barriers along San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Since opening in 1937 more than 1,500 people had leapt from it. Naysayers said barriers would only “ugly-fy” the world-famous landmark, and would-be jumpers will simply buy guns or ropes to shoot or hang themselves elsewhere. Stats showed them wrong, though, when barriers were placed. Of 525 persons who somehow were restrained from leaping, only 25 chose another way to end their life. The rest dropped the plan after the opportunity was blunted.

Perhaps we can discreetly find out how a despondent relative or friend might couple the intent with the method. Then we can remove the person far from the opportunity, and report it to the attending doctor. No harm trying. It’s similar to how two years ago suicides by guzzling silver cleaner were curbed. Half-liter bottle lethal doses readily were available then in hardware stores. Authorities simply had the chemical repackaged and retailed in safer mini vials.

Potential suicides need our care. Experts correlate suicide to mental health. Nine million Filipinos suffer mental, neurological, and substance-abuse disorder. Of those, 2.6 million are anxiety disorders, and 3.3 million are depression.

Talking lovingly, patiently to them is vital. “It’s a myth that asking about suicide will put suicidal ideas into a person’s head. That is not true,” psychiatrist Antonio C. Sison wrote for The STAR: “If you ask someone if they are having suicidal thoughts the person will likely admit having them. But asking them will not put suicidal ideas in their minds. Therefore, it is important to ask. But the manner and approach to asking is important.”

Suicide-prevention counselors are online – free. If you or someone you know needs emotional assistance, a 24/7 crisis hotline is HopelinePH: (0918) 8734673, (0917) 5584673, (02) 88044673, or 2919 (for Globe/TM).

Psychiatric consultation is available in most hospitals. Further info: Philippine Psychiatric Association, 8635-9858 or

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