Gov’t asks churches, spiritual leaders to spread 'message of hope' amid rising suicide cases

Government officials at the helm of coronavirus response efforts have appealed to churches and spiritual leaders in the country to provide counsel and guidance to their followers to ease their anxiety and help save them from "self-destruction" during the pandemic.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, made the appeal after a phone conversation with Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer.

Guevarra said in a statement sent to reporters that he got a call from Galvez on Friday night, August 21, “regarding the alarming increase in the number of suicides during these pandemic times.”

“He is seeking the help of our churches and spiritual leaders in providing counsel and guidance to their members and followers who are undergoing depression due to loss of employment or livelihood, anxiety of being afflicted with or dying from the dreaded disease, loneliness arising from isolation, and lack of hope for a return to their normal lives,” Guevarra said.

“I share Secretary Galvez’s concern and respectfully request our spiritual leaders to bring this much needed message of hope to our suffering countrymen in order to stave off more incidents of self-destruction,” he added.

The Philippine government had implemented one of the longest lockdowns in the world, particularly in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in Luzon, causing businesses to either downsize or fold up.

Experts had predicted a nationwide mental health epidemic as the country was poised to endure unprecedented periods of quarantine, isolation, and uncertainty.

In June, the National Center for Mental Health reported a spike in the number of Filipinos facing mental health issues due to the coronavirus pandemic, with calls flooding the center's crisis hotline during the Philippines' months-long lockdown. It also said that the monthly average of calls related to suicide also increased.  

In 2018 – two years before the pandemic – local psychiatrists, psychologists, and life coaches already sounded the alarm on the drastic increase in mental health illnesses and suicide cases among the Filipino youth.

The government had limited church and worship services in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, to 10 people even during general community quarantine. Guevarra earlier said this was upon the request of Metro Manila mayors.

Masses and worship services have been livestreamed since quarantine measures were imposed to stem the spread of the new virus. –