‘SUICIDE CONTAGION’: Why suicide cases are spiking and how it can be prevented

LIFE nowadays means getting hooked to social media. But the internet as the unbridled vessel for information of all sorts can also exacerbate social ills like suicide if left unchecked, according to experts. (F. A. Angelo)

A special report by: Emme Rose Santiagudo

DEPRESSION allegedly drove a 21-year-old architecture student studying in Iloilo City to end her life last week. Before this, she previously attempted to end her life at least five times.

From January 2018 to June 2019, the Iloilo province recorded 100 suicide cases based on the data from Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO).

The municipality of Leon recorded the most cases of suicide with nine, followed by Passi City and Cabatuan with six each; Badiangan with five; and Alimodian, Anilao, Dingle, Igbaras, Lambunao, Miag-ao, and San Joaquin with four each.

In Western Visayas, the Police Regional Office (PRO)-6 recorded 128 suicide cases from January to August 2019, with Iloilo province topping the list at 43 cases.

Iloilo province also consistently topped the suicide cases in the region from 2017 (59 cases) to 2018 (73 cases).

Why the uptick in suicide cases in Iloilo province?

Despite activities geared towards suicide prevention, are we in any way contributing to the alarming increase in suicide cases in the province?

Have social media and media in general magnified the suicide cases in any way, and led to a suicide contagion in Iloilo?

In exclusive interviews with some of the experts in mental health, Daily Guardian will try to forward the discussion on the often overlooked issue of suicide and mental health.



In most cases, authorities would point to problems at school, with one’s love life, and family as the root causes of suicide incidents.


While these aspects can all be contributory factors to suicide incidents, Dr. John Rev Guilaran, a Disaster Clinical Psychologist and assistant professor at the Division of Social Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences in the University of the Philippines Visayas pointed out that suicide is a very complex phenomenon and cannot be attributed to one root cause.

Guilaran emphasized that there can be a wide array of triggering factors involved in the act of suicide.

For one, he stressed that those with a genetic predisposition are highly vulnerable to suicide.

May mga genetic predisposition. People with mental disorder, depression, schizophrenia at risk sila, amo na nga risk factors gacontribute sa probability na magsuicide ang isa ka tawo,” Guilaran told Daily Guardian.

Dr. Mary Ann Sta. Lucia, medical officer III of the Department of Health Center for Health Development (DOH-CHD) 6 explained that while a big percentage of people suffering from depression commit suicide, those with a history of mental disorders are also highly at risk of suicide.

“Those with history sang psychiatric disorders they are at risk including those that are exposed to drug and alcohol abuse. Most of these people have mental conditions Sta. Lucia said.

Guilaran said that stress can also be a triggering factor to suicide, especially for people with genetic predispositions.

Ang constitution sang iba indi na sila amo na kanami maghandle stress. Technically, stress does not directly cause suicide but triggering factor na siya for example kon ikaw nga tawo may ara pre-disposition, ang chances mo of thinking suicide would be higher if you experience stress kay amo na gatrigger,” he explained.

Moreover, those who experienced physical and psychological trauma; problems with interpersonal relationships; and even unemployment and poverty are triggering factors for suicide acts and attempts, according to Guilaran.



Apart from the trigger factors, Guilaran said the immense influence of social media and media reporting can play a significant role in the increasing suicide cases.

Guilaran warned that social media can increase the risk of suicide especially to a vulnerable population when specific methods of killing oneself are posted and shared on social media.

Ang social media in itself magnifies a lot of things that happened in real life, social media ma-increase niya ang risk of suicide if for example sa social media naga-share sila methods of how to kill oneself, if may ara sila information on how to do it, then masuccesful ila attempt on suicide,” he stressed.

In some way, social media can also put at risk the vulnerable population when it becomes a venue for cyberbullying and online harassment, Guilaran added.

“Another way that social media puts at risk ang mga vulnerable population. Gina-istroyhan ta ang mga may pre-disposition na for example, cyberbullying, online harassment, so gina-cyberbully may predisposition, kadako sang risk nga mag-suicide,” he said.

Although not common in the Philippines, Guilaran cited the concept of “suicide pact” which can be encouraged via social media.

Ang suicide pact, they form a group and they plan a suicide at this designated time, designated hour,” he explained.

Guilaran explained that media reports of suicide can contribute to the so-called, “suicide contagion”.

May ginatawag kita nga suicide contagion, amo na siya example nabal-an nila na may successful nga napatay sa suicide, may iban ga-copy sila kay for one vulnerable na daan sila. Amo na nga careful kita when reporting, indi kita mag-sensationalize kay pwede siya mag-cause sang contagion,” he said.

For this reason, Guilaran stressed that the media should not sensationalize or romanticize the reporting of suicide.

“We should be careful about reporting cases of suicide if the media does not want to contribute, then the media should not sensationalize ang pagreport sang suicide. Indi mo man pag detalye kon paano gid napatay ang person because that would give an idea to other people nga vulnerable especially nga gapaminsar na sila magsuicide, if nabasahan na nila amo ni ka detalyado, then they will have an idea to do suicide themselves so we want to avoid that,” he stressed.

Posting or publishing suicide notes can further trigger the emotions of the vulnerable population, he furthered.

He stressed that the media should be sensitive and not trivialize suicide by choosing their words very carefully.

“Instead of ‘committed suicide’ or ‘failed attempt at suicide’ they can say ‘died by suicide’ or ‘ended their life’. We also need to avoid normalizing suicide by using terms na “epidemic” na ang suicide or it’s becoming very common because it’s not normal,” Guilaran furthered.



Sta. Lucia stated that globally, around 800,000 people die every year because of suicide, based on the data from World Health Organization (WHO).

“If you translate that, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. It is very common among people 15-29,” she said.

According to Sta. Lucia, suicide cases around the world have been increasing by 60 percent in the last 45 years.

“It is the leading cause of death in 2012. For every one completed suicide death, there are 20 attempts. Suicide death is more on the males but the attempt is more on the females,” she added.

Despite the complexity of suicide, Sta. Lucia emphasized that it is preventable.

“Suicide behavior can be detected like death themes on their artwork, changes in eating patterns, and speaking of notions that they want to disappear and they want to die,” she said.

While it is difficult to predict suicide incidents, Guilaran explained that several behaviors like posting on social media or joking about killing oneself can be considered as warning signs.

Hence, when one person is vulnerable or at risk, they should not have access to things that can be used for suicide incidents, he said.

They should also not be left alone, Guilaran added.

“If kabalo ta nga at risk ang isa ka person, make sure na wala siya access to things nga pwede magamit niya like guns, medication. And we should try not to leave the person alone.”

Guilaran underscored the importance of social support as one of the reliable factors to prevent suicide cases.

“Social support is one of the more reliable nga protective factors sa mental health outcome. When we feel stressed out, kon kabalo kita na may bulig kita na makuha from other people, we are more likely to respond better than undergo a very stressful situation when we’re alone,” he explained.

Guilaran added that people who died of suicide feel hopeless and alone.

For this reason, friends and families can play a vital role as social support by letting the person know and feel that there’s hope and that there is something to look forward to in life.

If put to good use, media, in general, can be a powerful tool to help spread awareness on suicide and prevent suicide cases, according to Guilaran.

“Even if social media may bad side, it can also be a good venue to spread information about mental health. It can be used to spread information about suicide warning signs, suicide and mental health and hotlines. You can also get support from social media from people nga may advocacy sa mental health, people who have similar experiences,” he said.

Despite the passage of the Mental Health Bill, existing stereotypes in the Philippine setting especially with people who have mental issues continue to drag the issue of suicide behind the line.

In this way, there is really a need for the public to change their mindset when it comes to mental health in order to target the increasing cases of suicide, Guilaran said.

May stigma pa gihapon kita with people nga may mental issues. That is related man sa underreporting kay usually they feel nakahuluya and immoral when you talk about it. One of the ways to forward the discussion of suicide is for us to have the right mindset to talk about mental health like it is normal to have negative emotions,” he stressed.

Institutions also play a vital role in the discussions of mental health.

Seeing their importance, Guilaran urged local government units (LGUs) and educational institutions to strengthen their mental health programs.

“Institutions have their own mental health programs so dapat i-fortify na siya, strengthen ang implementation sang mental health law para maskin papano maminimize ta ang risk factors that contribute sa suicide,” he said.

For students and everyone in general who struggle emotionally and mentally, Guilaran said they should not be afraid to ask and seek for help.

“For every one of us, let us ask for help, when we are feeling distressed, there is no shame na mangayo kita sang bulig and there are different people, may friends, family, professional help available, so don’t hesitate to ask for help or talk about your problems, concerns. There are people who are willing to listen like in schools we have guidance counselors, parents, teachers, and professional doctors,” he noted.

After all, everyone should remember that suicide is not just a health issue, but a community issue.

If you need help or any immediate assistance, you can call 321-5160/ 321-2841 local 186 (Western Visayas Medical Center); 320-2431 (West Visayas University Medical Center); and the hotlines DOH Adolescent Health CONNECT: 09985324047 (Smart), 09177759256 (Globe), and 09255469919 (Sun)