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IN BICOL: DOH sounds alarm on rising suicide trends

By Bobby Q. Labalan

Sorsogon City --- Bicol health officials have voiced their concern over the alarming incidents of suicide in the region over the past nine months.

Wendy Baluis, Mental Health Regional Program Manager under the Non-Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Cluster of the Department of Health- Center for Health Development-Bicol, said that there is an uptick in the suicide cases in the region though she refused to divulge the data just yet.

“We have data from three provinces- Albay, Camarines Sur and Sorsogon-, but they have yet to be validated to ensure that we have the correct figures”, Baluis said in an interview with Bicol Mail Monday, October 16. “But definitely, there was an increase compared to last year’s”, she stressed.

She said this is the reason why the DOH, as the lead agency on mental health program, had intensified its campaign on mental health awareness with a caravan held at the Sorsogon State University last October 11 led by DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

The caravan, dubbed as Byaheng Kalusugan, was held as highlight of the World Mental Health Awareness Month being observed every October by virtue of Proclamation No. 452 issued during the incumbency of former President Fidel Ramos.

In her message during the event, Vergeire urged everyone to be mindful of their mental health and to` regularly check on their family members and friends how they are doing.

“Kumusta ka?” is a simple phrase but could spell a very big difference in the mental health situation of a person, Vergeire stressed, especially when the person being asked is undergoing mental decline.

The official said that mental health status is seldom discussed even among families because of the stigma that comes with mental health sickness, this despite the fact that 14 per cent of Filipino adults experienced or developed one mental health problem during their lifetime equivalent to 16 million Filipino adults, as shown by the 2021 Mental Health Survey.

These mental health problems include depression, panic attack, alcohol-use disorder, dementia and suicide ideations or suicidal thoughts.

Vergeire also revealed that based on the 2021 Young Adult Fertility Survey 17 per cent of the respondents have thought of committing suicide and one-third of them had suicidal thought more than once. The most common reason was family conflict, she added.

In Sorsogon province, the Provincial Health Office had recorded at least 33 suicide incidents from January to September this year, 29 of which resulted to deaths.

Out of the total number, the age bracket of 20-24 years old registered the highest number of cases at 11, followed by 30-34 years old with five; 15-19 years old with four; 35-39 years old with three; 25-29 years old, 40-44 years old and 65-69 years old with two each and 45-49, 50-54, 55-59 and 70-74 years old with one case each.

Of those dead, 25 were males while four were females from the towns of Bulan, Casiguran and Magallanes and from the city of Sorsogon.

Of the 14 municipalities, the town of Magallanes, recorded the highest number of suicide incidents with five, all pf which resulted to death followed by Bulan with four, all died; Prieto-Diaz also with four but only two died; Castilla and Bacon District (Sorsogon City) with three each, all were dead;Gubat, Casiguran and Irosin with two each, only one in Irosin survived; Barcelona, Donsol, Pilar, Santa Magdalena, Bulusan, Matnog, Sorsogon City West District and Juban had one each but only the Juban case survived.

Meanwhile, Baluis said the health department in Bicol continues with its efforts on gathering data to get a better view of the mental health cases in the region especially on suicide incidents as she admitted that obtaining figures from other provinces remains a challenge.

She stressed that although there is now an inter-agency committee that looks into the mental health concern, a lot has yet to be done in terms of coordination and reporting.

Baluis said the DOH is now working down to the level of municipalities as the agency continues to provide rural health workers with the necessary capacity-building trainings as well as technical assistance. Mental health drugs are also being downloaded now to rural health units, she added.


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