Home Mental Health & Well-Being I Was a Suicidal Teen in a Slum in the Philippines – Now I’m Doing a PhD to Address Suicidal Behaviour

I Was a Suicidal Teen in a Slum in the Philippines – Now I’m Doing a PhD to Address Suicidal Behaviour

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It happened three days after Valentine’s Day. Big rocks fell over houses, leaving more than a thousand bodies dead and several children orphaned.

‘J’ was one of the survivors of the 2006 Guinsaugon landslide in Southern Leyte. Both her parents were missing after the tragedy, leaving the teenager in the hands of her older siblings. But luck was never quite on her side; ‘J’ and her siblings had to live in separate towns to survive.

A year and a half later, ‘J’ wrote on her bedroom wall: ‘Kung ‘di lang kasalanan magkapamatay, ginawa ko na (If only it wasn’t a sin to commit suicide, I would’ve done it already).’ On the kitchen wall, she wrote: ‘Walang nagmamahal sa akin (Nobody loves me).’

A few months later, through the help of mental health advocates, ‘J’ was diagnosed with clinical depression and received psychosocial support. Soon enough, she scrubbed her walls. 

Excerpted from Rappler

It is not unusual to come across narratives like that of ‘J’ among adolescents in the Philippines – I was one of them.

A 2016 report revealed that 46% of all suicide cases recorded in the Philippines since 2010 are from young adults aged 10–35. Incidence is highest in young adults aged 20–35 (30%) while the remaining 16% are adolescents aged 10–19. It is also disconcerting to learn that rates of suicide in the Philippines have been steadily increasing: The incidence in males increased from 0.23 to 3.59 per 100,000 between 1984 and 2005. Similarly, rates elevated from 0.12 to 1.09 per 100,000 in females in the same period.

A slightly different picture can be seen in Western countries: In the UK, for instance, males under the age of 30 had the lowest suicide rate of any group, at 9.9 deaths per 100,000. However, in comparison with other developing countries, suicide rates in the Philippines are unusually high and, therefore, concerning. According to 2017 figures from the World Health Organization, the overall rates of 3.7 per 100,000 (across gender) is higher than that found in Syria, Algeria, Indonesia, Guatemala, or Pakistan – where rates are 3.2; 3.1; 3.0; 2.7 and 2.5 per 100,000, respectively. 

But in spite of the global discrepancy in rates of suicide among adolescents in the Philippines, there is a dearth of research in this area, and a constellation of significant barriers (such as stigma and discrimination, financial barriers, and mental health system barriers) to mental health treatment exist for the adolescents who need help. 

As pointed out by a number of researchers, research on mental health issues among adolescents in the Philippines is urgent because of the rising rates of mental health issues among this group.

Yet, in spite of these alarming figures, the vast majority of suicide research has focused on developed nations and, as a consequence, there is now a lack of knowledge and understanding about the factors that affect the risk of suicidal behaviour in many low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, to account for the difference in culture and circumstances, adolescents in developing countries need tailored suicide interventions. 

When we talk about suicidal behaviour – and mental health in general – one human characteristic consistently emerges as a key protective factor: resilience. 

Resilience has been known to be predictive of anxiety and depressive symptoms That is, those who have low levels of resilience are likely to develop anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Meanwhile, previous works have also suggested that anxiety and depressive symptoms are associated with suicidal behaviour.  

Essentially, previous works suggest that thoughts of suicide can occur during periods of anxiety and depressive symptoms, while resilience moderates these two. These psychological elements formed the basis of my PhD research project.

Driven by my passion as a mental health blogger and my lived experience more than twenty years ago – as a university student in the Philippines who has attempted suicide multiple times – my PhD research project will explore the conceptual frames that could be used to adapt a blog-based psychoeducation intervention, to augment resilience among adolescents.

I was lucky. People and circumstances rescued me; I will be eternally grateful. Now, it’s time for me to give something back. This is the very reason why I summoned the courage and determination to do a PhD.

My research aims to design a psychological intervention that will be trialled on a different cohort of university students. It will explore how effective it is in promoting resilience to address anxiety and depressive symptoms among Filipino adolescents.

With suicidal behaviour being a global public health dilemma, the implications of this study are threefold: First, this will be the first empirical study which will investigate the efficacy of a blog-based psychoeducation intervention for suicide prevention among adolescents. Second, it will build upon previous works on ways to promote resilience among adolescents. Finally, it will form a comparative framework for future research on blog-based intervention.

With the ever-increasing popularity of blogs, it makes sense that they should be adapted in order to improve the way people think and act about mental health. The good news is that across the world, people use blogs as a platform to share experiences, to increase awareness and understanding, and to offer comfort and support. 

It might sound surprising to most people, but there is a psychology behind blogging.  An emerging subfield in psychology that focuses on the application of psychological principles and research in order to optimise the benefits that readers can derive from consuming blogs is known as ‘blog psychology’.

Conversations about mental health, psychology, and well-being play a crucial role in helping people feel better about themselves. Blogging gives people a chance to create these conversations. 

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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