Trigger warning: suicide
In the past few weeks, my friends and co-workers have been talking about the recent incidents of apparent suicides that have gained media attention.
A few weeks ago, a man reportedly fell from the fourth-floor balcony of a mall here in Laguna province. While that incident became talk of the town in our city for a few days, with many speculating that the man did intend to jump, the gory scene was quickly forgotten as Lagunenses became focused once again on rebuilding their lives post-pandemic.
Last week came another shocker: an elderly woman jumped into an oncoming train at the Metro Rail Transit Line 3. (Although rescue workers were able to recover the woman alive at the scene, she later died in the hospital, according to news reports.)
Sure, these incidents have once again touched on a topic that has been swept completely under the rug in the Philippines: the issue of mental health and suicide, which had been heightened by the isolation and anxieties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The issue of maintaining open communications with our loved ones and friends when it comes to mental issues is a touchy topic here in the Philippines before the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a country where positivity (read: “toxic” positivity) has been seen as a good character trait and “reklamadors” are dismissed or even made fun of, talking about depression and other mental issues have become all but taboo even among family and friends.
Parents and children don’t have much time to talk about their lives, as they have been too consumed by the burdens of living. And in the rare instances when they could talk about personal feelings, any negative feelings are likely to be brushed aside with comments like, “Nag-iinarte lang iyan,” “Naghahanap lang iyan ng atensyon,” or even “Huwag mo nang isipin iyan!”
The trouble with that kind of dismissive attitude towards mental illness and mental health issues, according to experts, is that they reinforce the feelings of loneliness and isolation, which could in turn trigger the desire to commit suicide.
Those feelings have been heightened during the Covid-19 pandemic, as lockdowns and restrictions on the movement of people have resulted in our young being cooped up in their homes for long periods of time. While some think that yes, people are now more connected due to social media and the Internet, well, to quote singer Leo Sayer, “The telephone can’t take the place of your smile.” (And let’s admit it, talking to people via Zoom is WAY different from talking to them face-to-face.)
In dealing with mental health issues, what is needed is open communication, a mind ready to listen without judging, and a heart that’s ready to accept that everything is not as OK as we would all like to be.
And this is where Filipinos should dump that attitude of “toxic positivity,” which in my view actually prevents us from identifying the problem – the first task towards resolving them.
The same holds true of mental health issues: let’s stop pretending that everything’s all right. Instead, when a family member or friend comes to us and say, “I have this problem…” let’s acknowledge that problem.
And instead of dismissing their mental health concerns, why don’t we all sit down and take the time and timing to listen?