The Department of Health, together with the World Health Organization, and Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, launched Hopeline, a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline, in observance of the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday.
Hopeline may be reached at (02) 804-4673; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.
WHO Country Representative Gundo Weiler said the toll-free hotline, supported by Globe Telecom, is one of the options persons with suicidal thoughts have when in need of support.
"Some people will turn to a trusted family member, other people will turn to health professionals; other people will turn to the hotline and to the crisis line that has been set-up," he said.
"This is why it is important to offer and to create a range of opportunities for people to seek support."
Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean Ubial said anonymous hotlines like these are needed as some individuals are uncomfortable with disclosing these thoughts to friends or loved ones.
"Sometimes, you don't want to confine very sensitive issues to somebody you know because baka ma-chismis ka, it can get around," she explained.
"The Hopeline is really something that has been proven worldwide to be very useful in terms of access or communication for patients with this ideation of suicide so that it's impersonal, it's confidential and it's run by professionals."
Hopeline, 24/7 hotline for individuals seeking mental health help— Rie Takumi (@rie_takumi) September 13, 2016
Launched in Cebu last year pic.twitter.com/5K94BwKz0p
Responders for the hotline have been trained by psychologists and psychiatrists to provide aid for callers.
Ubial said, "It's a very intensive training and we also screened them in terms of their mental capacity, in terms of their emotional capacity, and in terms of their educational background."
The focus of Hopeline is in line with the theme of the 2016 World Suicide Prevention Day: Connect, communicate, care.
Weiler explained that there is no single symptom for people developing suicidal thoughts but cited feelings of isolation as the biggest risk for such an event.
Who calls the Hopeline?
The majority of calls made to Hopeline during its test run in Cebu last year also reported relationship problems, parental abuse and/or separation, and problems with gender identity as the top three sources of anxiety from callers.
"Most of the time, it's romance," Natasha Goulbourn Foundation president Jean Goulbourn said. "[Or] battered children, at seven years old, they're calling for help; or incest, abuse from a relative."
"Kung gusto nilang maging babae or- identity issue. The other one is normally divorces, separation... We have a little bit of loneliness, of aging."
NGF lists symptoms, types of depression, and how to understand and get help for depression pic.twitter.com/edh8a45PP1— Rie Takumi (@rie_takumi) September 13, 2016
Youth represent the largest demographic of their callers; the youngest caller they ever had was seven while the youngest incident of suicide they were informed of were three cousins aged 10.
"It is very prevalent among schoolchildren," Ubial confirmed.
There is also a noticeable spike of calls around Christmas and Valentine's Day as more people feel alone during these holidays.
Public suicides also create a spike in copycat cases.
"They feel alone, or they broke up, or they saw their boyfriends with somebody else," Goulbourn said.
"Then we have the copycat [attempts] that happened after [Kristel] Tejada. Wow. We had 280 calls per day... There were a lot rushed to the hospital, the emergency."
Educational modules on mental health developed by NGF with the Department of Education will be distributed during Hopeline caravans in schools conducted by the DOH in the future to guide children and parents.
Attitudes towards suicide, depression must change
Apart from using the hotline, Weiler said attitudes towards suicide and depression must change to create a environment supporting people with these conditions.
"It is important to create the conditions to support people in crisis who are thinking about suicide," he said. "Having suicidal thoughts is nothing to be ashamed about. Nobody's to blame for that."
"This is something that happens to many people. People who have these thoughts are not alone. When people have those thoughts, should be seeking connection, and care, and support; and there are many offers and many ways to do so."
A compendium of available resources in the community has also been sourced to provide callers a list of hospitals, religious institutions, and community programs that may provide additional counseling and treatment.
WHO estimates that over 800,000 or 1 person per 40 seconds die by suicide each year though Ubial noted that "there is no true figure" for the real number of people who die by suicide annually.
Out of 170 countries, the Philippines ranked 150 in terms of suicide rates and has the lowest suicide rate among ASEAN-member states.
The estimated 2,558 (550 female, 2008 male) or 2.9 per 100,000 suicides in 2012 in the country is lower than the annual global age-standardized suicide rate of 11.4 per 100,000.
However, Ubial noted that there is a strong stigma attached to mental health in low-income and middle-income families in countries like the Philippine.
The DOH is still compiling data from Hopeline's run in Cebu. They hope profile patients who use the service to create appropriate programs in their communities. — BM, GMA News