Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the Philippines, where depression is the leading cause of suicide, around 3 percent of the population, or about 3.3 million people, suffer from this medical illness. This year, the youngest recorded suicide in the country was that of a 6-year-old.
Worldwide, suicide incidents have increased by 60 percent in the last 45 years. One life is now lost to suicide every 40 seconds; this was revealed during the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) press briefing.
“The Philippines used to be last in terms of depression incidents, but now we have become one of the fastest-growing in the world at no. 3 or no. 4. Its biggest growth demographic is teenage depression, mostly due to social media, because we are one of the world’s most active users,” said Julio “Jun” Sy, the foundation chair.
Sy announced that the foundation’s Hopeline (88044673; 0927-5584673; 2919 toll-free for Globe and TM subscribers) is planning to expand its staff of 20 first responders and will someday have a call-back feature.
“The most effective way to stop suicide is to reach out to the people who are suffering from depression or are suicidal, and make sure you are always in touch with them,” Sy said.
The foundation is also currently pushing for Mindstrong in 2020, a training program for school guidance counselors, reaching out to the local government units so they can build a counseling system.
Only 800 public schools out of 25,000 have a guidance counselor, or some semblance of one, said Jean Goulbourn, foundation president and executive director.
Goulbourn said it also plans to launch the Wellness Emotional Resilience program at De La Salle high schools, which aims to make homeroom guidance part of the curriculum for Grade 4 and Grade 12 students. The program’s goal is to build a child’s self-worth.
Globally, the suicide rate among children age 10-14 has tripled from 2007 to 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.
“By building self-esteem through sports, we hope we can conquer half of the problems,” Goulbourn said.
The foundation, said Goulbourn, has so far saved 300,000 lives.
The emotional resilience program will be launched together with You Only Live Once (Yolo) Foundation headed by Sheila Suntay, who lost her 20-year-old son to suicide last year.
Since setting up a Facebook and Instagram account in memory of her son (Yolo by Renzo Suntay), Suntay said she has been receiving many letters from children, “all battling depression, and who have no money and nowhere to go.”
Every 40 seconds
“As I speak, we just lost one person to suicide. In another 40 seconds, we will lose another child. Until when are we going to sit back in silence and watch these children take their lives,” said the tearful Suntay.
“Your presence can heal a grieving spirit. Let’s break the stigma and break the silence. Stigma doesn’t start with them; it starts with us,” Suntay said.
Celebrity guests also spoke of their experience with suicide. Actor Paulo Avelino recalled his suicide attempt, while actress Iza Calzado opened up about her mother’s battle with depression and eventual suicide.
“It was very difficult for a child to see her mother attempt to take her life several times… They must know they will not be judged. All they want is to be seen and heard, and for their feelings to be validated,” said Calzado, who was 19 when she lost her mom.
“Every day, I wish I fully understood her, that there were more people who understood her,” she said.
The 13-year-old foundation also announced it had changed its name to Natasha Goulbourn Foundation Mindstrong.
In June this year, the Department of Health withdrew all support for the foundation’s Hopeline after the government launched its own national crisis hotline.
The renaming, Goulbourn said, will enable the foundation to request funds from foreign entities.
On Nov. 18, the foundation will stage a benefit concert, “Beyond the Blues with The Beatles,” at the grand ballroom of the New World Hotel, Makati. Classic Beatles hits will be interpreted by Bituin Escalante, Jon Santos, Nicole Asensio and Michael Williams. Proceeds will go to the Hopeline crisis hotline.
The NGF Mindstrong, named after Jean Goulbourn’s daughter Natasha, who committed suicide in 2002, was established in 2007.
Aside from its flagship Hopeline Crisis Hotline, its programs include education and advocacy programs, community empowerment and services networking.