Medical Files

Rejoinder on student suicide

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Folllowing our commentary in a previous column on the suicide of Kristel Tejada, a 16-year-old student at the University of the Philippines Manila, we received a lot of feedback from our readers on the subject.

There is no question that Kristel’s case is not isolated, and unless the problem of student suicide is addressed urgently and adequately, a repeat of this unfortunate tragedy is likely to happen in the future.

College life is a difficult transition period for most of our students and as the experts describe it, “students may feel lost, lonely, confused, anxious, inadequate and stressed.”

Depression and suicidal tendencies are potential complications of college life. Parents in the provinces who send their children to the big city for their college education should always have this at the back of their minds, so they can continue to provide the necessary emotional support to their children even if they’re far away. With all modern means of communication, this should not be a problem.

Virginia Perez of Naga City worries about her daughter who’s studying in Manila so she and her husband make sure they’re in constant touch with her and never lets a day pass without talking to her.

Complex case

Dr. Ramon Abarquez Jr., emeritus professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, says in his letter to the editor (Inquirer, 03/27/13) that Kristel’s case is a complex one. “The Kristel Tejada suicide is not necessarily a sample case of ‘cause and effect’ as perceived by many and projected by media. As in all cases of suicide, a psychological factor is present; and any psychological or medical problem that influences behavior—and causes depression—can play dirty tricks on the mind leading the person affected to think of suicide,” he explains.

Remigio Sales of Makati thinks some people are born with a predisposition for depression and suicidal tendencies, such that even if they only have minor stresses in life, they easily feel depressed and think of ending it all through “the easy way.”

While genetic predisposition leading to some hormonal problems could make some people prone to depression, environmental factors tend to play an equally important fraction in the formula. And for those who are unfortunately genetically predisposed, strengthening their emotional makeup through some mental exercises plus a strong emotional support structure from family and friends can make strong antidotes to depression and any damaging thoughts.

Proper management

It’s true though that for some severe cases, antidepression drugs and psychotherapy would be necessary. If we have relatives or friends who really can’t shake off their blues by themselves, they should be referred to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for proper management. Students at risk have been described by experts as usually quiet, reserved, feeling depressed from time to time even with minor stressors and socially isolated.

According to Suicide.org (http://www.suicide.org), a website aiming for suicide prevention, awareness and support, the following pointers can guide one to deal with potential suicidal candidates:

• Always take suicidal comments very seriously.
• One should not act shocked because it will only agitate the suicidal candidate more.
• Listen attentively to everything that the person has to say.
• Comfort the person with words of encouragement.
• Let the person know that you are deeply concerned.
• If the person is at a high risk of suicide, do not leave him or her alone.
• Don’t be judgmental.
• Be careful of the statements that you make.
• Let the person express emotion in the way that he or she wants.
• After the person has received help and is no longer critically suicidal, help the person make an appointment with a medical doctor and a therapist.
• Don’t keep it a “secret.” If someone tells you that you need to keep his or her suicidal intentions a secret, then you never can keep that “secret.” Under no circumstances can you keep a “secret” that could cause someone’s death.
• Follow up with the person on a regular basis to make sure that he or she is doing okay.

Suicidal feelings can come and go, so a person at risk must be given continued support. It can definitely go a long way to convince the person there are still people caring for him or her; and life can’t be that bad after all.

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