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Experts seek media sensitivity amid Cagayan de Oro surge in suicides

Cong Corrales

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Experts seek media sensitivity amid Cagayan de Oro surge in suicides

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

Local officials call for a whole-of-society approach as Cagayan de Oro sees a 162% increase in the number of suicides compared to the same period in 2022

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The city government’s mental health experts on Friday, May 12, called on the local media to be mindful and sensitive in their coverage of mental health issues as Cagayan de Oro saw a surge in the number of suicides since January.

“Please avoid reporting the methods of suicide,” Jayme Leonen-Pagaspas, the head psychologist at the Psychosocial Division of the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD), appealed to local news organizations.

Pagaspas called out media outfits that glamorized these incidents, showing insensitivity to the families and complete disregard to the rising mental health problems.

Pagaspas cited data from the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Department (CDRRMD) that showed a 162% increase in the number of suicides in the city compared to the same period in 2022.

The CDRRMD data showed at least 47 self-inflicted deaths in the city from January to April.

Pagaspas said the city’s media can help in city hall’s efforts to help people suffering from depression and suicidal tendencies by being careful about the way they report suicide cases.

Journalist Ryan Rosauro, the Mindanao bureau chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said media’s role in dealing with mental health issues was crucial.

“Our interest here is on addressing the risk of contagion driven by media reporting and mindless social media information sharing and delving into the largely unseen state of mental health of people,” Rosauro told Rappler.

Experts have said media can report responsibly by avoiding sensationalizing or glamorizing suicide, exercising caution when sharing methods and specifics, respecting privacy and obtaining consent from families, using non-stigmatizing language, contextualizing, and educating the public about warning signs and prevention, among others.

Need for whole-of-society approach

With the alarming rise of suicides in the past few weeks, local officials said there was a need for a whole-of-society approach to address mental health issues.

Pagaspas said the spate of suicides in the city should serve as a wake-up call to the reality of depression as a mental health ailment.

“Depression is one of the most disabling diseases worldwide and it is crucial to acknowledge that it is a social plague which means all members of the society should help prevent suicides and participate in the active campaign to promote mental health,” she said.

Dr. Jose Coruña Jr., a consulting psychiatrist at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), said the high rate of suicides among teenagers occurs mostly in highly urbanized cities where many people feel isolated and even alienated because of the fast pace of life.

Coruña also pointed out that the stigma attached to mental health problems, and the dearth of mental health professionals in the city contribute to the lack of awareness among many residents.

“We need to educate our people that without mental health, there is no health,” said Coruña.

Pagaspas said they were training their workers on giving “depression first aid” to those with mental health issues and people with trauma.

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Rolando Uy, meanwhile, has asked the local school board and the Liga ng mga Barangay to coordinate with the CSWD in promoting mental health.

Uy said city hall would set up “mental health corners” in the city’s 80 barangays, and public school teachers in the city would be trained on early detection and early response to depression among students. – Rappler.com

Cong Corrales is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

Cagayan de Oro residents in need of professional help can dial 911 or talk to a professional through 0970-039-2709. The Department of Health also has national crisis hotlines to assist people with mental health concerns: 1553 (landline), 0966-351-4518, and 0917-899-USAP (8727) (Globe/TM); and 0908-639-2672 (Smart/Sun/TNT).

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