Medical Files

Putting context to Kristel’s death


We sincerely sympathize with the family of Kristel Tejada, a 16-year-old first year behavioral science student from the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, who committed suicide late last week.

The first time I read the heading of the story, I purposely didn’t read the rest of the story, because this is the kind of news that gives me that glum and down-in-the-dumps feeling. But since it’s all over the media, one gets a full serving of the details of this most unfortunate tragedy.

It’s always easy to look in retrospect and point fingers at people, especially university administrators, blaming them for the untimely death of Kristel, who was blessed with intelligence and physical looks, and who would have likely made a successful professional in her chosen career someday. But as the experts tell us, preventing suicide is not as simple as it may seem it is. “It’s a confluence of so many factors,” says psychiatrist Dr. Paul Lee.

Medically rational

It’s medically rational to assume that even if Kristel was not asked to file her LOA (leave of absence) for failing to pay her tuition, she might have been still a suicide risk. Granting for the sake of argument that the UP problem was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, the predisposition to commit suicide must have been brewing for quite sometime already, and even the least stressful situation could have provided the final straw.

While we empathize with Kristel and sympathize with her family for their big loss, we should also try to put things in proper perspective to prevent more student suicides from happening. We’re just concerned that Kristel’s act might be interpreted by our students as an act of great courage or even martyrdom in fighting for a cause, and that they can consider the same option should they be in a similar situation.

Our teachers and professors at various school levels should discuss the problem of suicide objectively and dispassionately with their students and disabuse any idea in the minds of these students that suicide is a lofty act to do when one can no longer see a clear solution to the many problems confronting a student.

Suicide is one of the top causes of deaths among students. Unfortunately, this problem has not been properly recognized and adequately addressed in most schools. Unless this is recognized as a real and serious problem among students, which requires preventive interventions, I’m afraid we will have many more Kristels in the future.

Proactive interventions

If we want to give more meaning to Kristel’s death, the schools and universities have to focus on proactive interventions identifying students at risk and aggressively collaborating with their families on how to help and treat the student. Thinking that it’s merely a financial issue is actually skirting the issue and won’t really solve the problem of student suicides.

Lowering tuition fees or changing policies on fees may help alleviate the problem, but it’s only a band-aid solution or a knee-jerk reaction, and unless other sustained programs on preventing suicides are done, it won’t reduce the rising incidence of student suicides on the long term.

Students who attempt suicide are actually ambivalent about killing themselves; they are just so confused about what options to take. They have this all-consuming feeling that no one really cares for them or would even notice if they’re already gone. They feel trapped, hopeless, helpless and their minds play dirty tricks on them, making them think that suicide is the only way out of their pitiful situation. For as long as they can be pulled out of their depression and assured that some people still care for them, they are likely not to commit suicide.

Alleviate academic stress

We would like to sound off our call for all schools and universities to have organized programs to alleviate academic stress and worries and all other problems that students are commonly confronted with. A stronger personal mentorship or “Big-brother,” “Big-sister” program can also help provide a strong emotional support for distressed students.

In some schools abroad, they have actually made it part of the curriculum of freshmen students  to understand the root causes of student depression and suicide, and recognize immediately if one has signs and symptoms that can make him or her at risk for suicide.

If we could retrain our minds on the real causes of student suicides and prod our school administrators on institutionalizing programs in collaboration with the students’ parents to prevent it and families, then Kristel’s death shall not have been in vain.

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  • Pocholo Peralta

    While Kristel’s suicide is being blamed on School or poverty, Aaron
    Swartz’s was blamed on political corruption. The similarity in both
    cases is that there were previous reasons that could have contributed to
    their suicides and both cases are still being debated. While I think
    that Kristel’s school and Aaron’s Fed prosecutor deserve blame, I also
    agree with Dr. Castillo’s point.

    poch peralta

  • philip hernaez




    • Lyn Angelica Pano

      all parents po, all of us, rich or poor, pay for everything in this country through our taxes. we actually have a regressive tax system, which means the poor pay more than the rich. even students, even kids pay taxes for every little purchase they make. so there’s no way we can absolve the govt really. we all pay for everything in this country so that the govt can fulfill its duties – one of them is education. hindi po tayo humihingi ng luho sa gobyerno, we are only demanding what we have the right over.

      • Vox Populi

        I beg to disagree. We do NOT have a regressive tax system. In a REGRESSIVE SYSTEM of taxation (which is different from regressive tax), the tax rate decreases as the taxpayer’s income increases. In other words, in a regressive system, the tax rate decreases as the tax base increases, in effect rewarding people who work hard to earn money. This is not the system here. What we have is the PROGRESSIVE SYSTEM of taxation in which the higher the income of the taxpayer, the higher his tax bracket. This is the system adopted by most countries, including the Philippines.

        While we do not use the regressive system of taxation, we impose regressive tax in certain transactions. Sales tax and VAT are regressive taxes (again, different from regressive system of taxation).

        Also, while we pay taxes, we cannot expect the tax that we pay to cover everything that we need. The Philippine constitution guarantees the right to education. However, this guarantee is only for basic education – primary and secondary. That is why we have public elementary and secondary schools which are free. College and post-graduate education is no longer a right that we can demand from the government. We can ask for subsidy, yes. But not an entirely free college and post-graduate education. While our government is a government “for the people”, it also a government “by the people and of the people.” We also have to do and give our share and we can do so in more ways than one.

  • baycas

    I would say the recipe for what happened to the very bright student named Kristel was already there.

    For four years, she was inculcated (read: brainwashed) that she could be the lifesaver of the family once she finished her schooling. An official task was given to an adolescent who at the time was thinking of her own identity but was confused of her role in the family. It may have been a burden or not, nonetheless, taxing to the child.

    There was passion to go to school. There was a preoccupation (read: obsession) to go to school.

    However, negative life…and family…events repeatedly happened. Constant depression ensued…worsening depression without real counseling.

    Then there was desperation…hopelessness…

    The lethality of what she did, considering she’s a female, tells us what actually occurred…

    Tandaan (Remember): Without true love, we’re nothing,” she said in her letter.

    It wasn’t “murder“, as the mainstream media had portrayed U.P. to be the culprit.

    • Lyn Angelica Pano

      it’s not explicitly stated here if you’re blaming the parents/family po, pero what i can say, correct me if im wrong, mukhang nasa kultura po yata talaga nating mga Pinoy ang pagtulong sa pamilya at mga kamag-anak, maski hindi panganay, at ang pagtanaw ng utang na loob – kusang loob man yan o inobliga ng magulang. having experienced that at a much tender age just like Kristel, mahirap po talaga ang patung-patong na problema sa family relationships, academics, finances (mas mahirap pa kung tayo rin yung tipo ng nag-iisip din paano makakatulong sa mga nangyayari around us – sa community, sa bansa natin, sa larger society of which we are a part of)… lahat interconnected, lahat affects our well-being. nakaka-depress at nakaka-frustrate po talaga :( It may be true that UP is not THE culprit, it is AMONG the culprits. Im happy that one of the academic stresses, the FLOA is already suspended. but a lot of work still needs to be done.

      • baycas

        What I had presented is just one of the many factors in the so-called “confluence of so many factors” seen in suicides as was written in Dr. Castillo’s article. Blame was never intended…especially if a cascade of failures in past events is present. The degree of culpability cannot be ascertained.

        I had recommended in this blog posts:


        …the need for a Psychological Autopsy and a Root Cause Analysis. Systems can be assessed through thorough analysis. That is where the work needs to start in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.


    Kudos to you Dr. Castillo for this objective inputs. Somehow, the analysis of causes inherent to this issue is based on a perspective which leads to logical rather than speculative reactions. The bottom line is pointing fingers of unfounded blame at people is uncalled for! Salamat po ng marami . . .

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