ISA Marks World Day for Mental Health with Talk on Suicide
The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) commemorated World Day for Mental Health (October 10) with a public lecture on “Suicide, Psychology, Spirituality, Management and Prevention” on October 12, 2019.
ISA hosted more than 70 participants at the all-day talk of Dr. Tan Cho-Chiong held at the Multi-Purpose Hall of the Teresa of Avila Building, New Manila, Quezon City.
Dr. Tan is an associate professor at the Institute of Medicine, Far Eastern University, Dr. Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation, Manila. He also heads the university hospital’s Psychiatry Section of its Department of Medicine.
Dr. Tan was a Fellow in epileptology and electroencephalography at the Institute of Epilepsy in Japan, and at the Institute of Neurology, London, in neurology. A Buddhist, he graciously distributed to the participants a number of books as well as “Music of Buddhism” CD.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2014 Global Report on Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of deaths. Every year, close to 300,000 people all over the world take their life.
And according to the website of Suicide Org! (the global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 persons. Specifically, on the average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. In addition, global suicide rates have increased by 60% in the past 45 years.
Suicide could be the result of mental health problems such as depression, worldwide the most common mental health problem which affected some 300 million people in 2015. In his talk at ISA, Dr. Tan flashed pictures of celebrities who had taken their lives supposedly because of depression, including international chef Anthony Bourdain and New York-based fashion designer Kate Spade.
In the Philippines the most recent celebrity to die by suicide appears to be Razorback drummer Brian Veloso on January 16, 2019. His death drew the following official statement from the Department of Health:
“Depression is a serious health condition. In the Philippines, 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depressive disorders with suicide rates in 2.5 males and 1.7 females per 100,000. We need to start talking about depression to end the stigma surrounding mental health because left unattended, it can lead to suicide. The WHO reported that 800, 000 persons die every year due to suicide. It is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 24 years old. To those in need of help, we have a 24-hour toll-free suicide prevention hotline. You can call (02) 804-4673 and 0917 -5584-673 or send SMS.to 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.”
In his talk Dr. Tan also cited a number of misconceptions such as Muslims, homosexuals and HIV-positive individuals being prone or predisposed to suicide. He lamented how the media can sometimes sensationalize or play up these up “when we still lack solid data on these matters.”
He also discussed risk factors, including family history (genetics) of mental health issues and substance abuse; violence; earlier attempts to commit suicide; feelings of hopelessness; seclusion or loneliness; lack of family or group support; conflict with the law; sleep deprivation; being prone to reckless behavior; and particularly for children, parental separation as well as disciplinary, social and school problems.
For school-related problems, Dr. Tan cited the late Kristel Tejada, University of the Philippines-Manila student who killed herself in 2013 when her family could not pay her tuition fee. After candlelight vigils for the 16 year-old third year coed, the university lifted the “no late payment” policy but the harm had been done.
He added that good counseling could have also helped uncover related psychological problems.
Management and prevention
A worldwide phenomenon, suicide is also a public health concern, said Dr. Tan.
On the part of the government, Congress passed the Mental Health Act in June 2018 with provisions for psychiatric and neurologic services and for integrated assistance in regional, provincial and other levels of hospitals.
Other provisions aim to improve mental health care facilities and to promote mental health education in schools and workplaces.
Indeed, the public lecture showed that conflict and suicide-related illnesses like depression can be managed in a number of settings. Dr. Tan and the participants shared experiences on programs run by hospitals, private groups and religious congregations with volunteer doctors and pastors, schools with dedicated programs on anti-bullying, and centers with arts therapy.
Creative endeavors like painting, music, drama and dance, it has been established, can soothe and nourish the soul. So can groups with innovative methods like Pinoy laughing yoga, and the families themselves.
At least one participant knew of a family with three members all suffering from depression.
“It is natural for anyone to be depressed or to grieve,” said Dr. Tan, “but when this extends past two or three weeks, let us encourage family members to seek professional help. We must overcome this stigma that one is going crazy whenever there are mental health issues.”
Aside from medical staff, families can also offer support and be alert to what Dr. Tan called suicidal ideation where a depressed kin can say `I wish I were dead!’ or express such feelings on Facebook and inflict self-injury. ‘
Because of peer influence, sometimes a student can imitate classmates who hurt themselves in desperation over their own numbness. Here, Dr. Tan introduced another term: anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure (Greek for an, “without” and hedon, “pleasure”).
He cautioned everyone, “Keep your loved ones who are depressed away from knives, muriatic acid, streets where they might just throw themselves at moving vehicles, and buildings where they might just jump off.”
And here, Dr. Tan recalled the case of Maningning Miclat, a young professor at his alma mater, who managed to kill herself despite being repeatedly led away by a vigilant security guard from the window ledge of a college building.
Dr. Tan reiterated how depression becomes a problem especially when it affects the youth, entails expenses and generates economic losses.
For parents who will separate, he advocates good psychological preparation and counseling of their children. In this connection, he said that marriage may hinder suicide because spouses tend to support each other during problems.
And with its stand against taking one’s life, religion also serves to deter suicide.
“A strong spiritual life helps,” Dr. Tan explained, calling attention to what he described as the neurobiology of love, kindness and compassion.
“The frontal lobe of the brain is where God communicates with a person and which leads to meditative compassion,” he also said. “But it can hinder and thwart the growth process, and render a person a dwarf in his spiritual attainment.”
With the participants, Dr. Tan shared slides of how advances in technology can document the neurological and biological bases of compassion. For example, by means of colors, researchers have compared and contrasted the brain of a Buddhist monk who was originally interacting with people (deep red) and then went into deep meditation (brilliant green).
“This is brain mapping,” he said. “It shows us the need to worship God, because a life without God needs more material things to keep us happy. The wisdom of the Bible is our mailbox from God on what we should think and how our minds should work. We have not just a computer but also a garden in our brain. Let us enrich it with a green environment by keeping busy with hobbies and by thinking positively.”
Dr. Tan also connected spirituality with a healthy lifestyle, whose elements include diet, exercise, support from the family and friends, relaxation, and professional help when needed.
He discussed the need for a diet which is sensible, locally-based and age-appropriate.
“Less sugar and more laughter!” he quipped. “Let us favor omega-3 fish oil, green leafy vegetables and nuts. We may not have almonds and walnuts here but we have our peanuts.”
He personally does not see the gym as a necessity, favoring the neighborhood park or its basketball court for jogging, staying up to date with friends “and also making new ones.”
“Or we can stay at home and use just this piece of tile for stationary running,” he said about the multi-purpose hall of ISA. “Do you know the rule for walking 10,000 steps? Just follow it.”
Crediting physical fitness as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Tan called mental fitness a part of protecting and safeguarding one’s very own well-being.
To close the afternoon, Dr. Carmen Alviar, ISA volunteer -officer for external linkages, called on ISA administrative officer Sr. Corazon Untal, Carm.O.L. to award the speaker a plaque of appreciation for sharing his knowledge and insights on spirituality and suicide prevention.
Dr. Alviar asked Sr. Ived del Valle Reyes of the Siervas de San Jose sisters - one of the groups new to the public lecture of ISA but warmly welcomed that day - to lead the closing prayer.
And as October culminates the Season of Creation being marked by the Church, Sr. Reyes prayed “Alabamos Sea” in Spanish and then translated it:
Praised be my Lord
in all things
and on earth
and in all.
Perla Aragon-Choudhury; 19 October 2019