Manilla, December, 1st, 2017 (Perry Paul G. Lamanilao/SIGNIS Asia Journalism Desk). In November this year, a 19-year-old college student from Davao City was found hanging on his room. He left a note narrating his frustrations in life involving relationship and family. Two days before his death, he posted several suicidal thoughts and messages on his Twitter account.

His posts on Twitter discussing about depression and his suicide attempts tell that depression and suicide among young people are serious matters that have come to the light. Research shows that teen depression rates are on the rise, yet the stigma or fear of asking for help often prevents people from getting medical support. Globally, suicide has emerged as a serious and intractable public health epidemic.

Based on the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year making it the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 years old.

In the Philippines, a 2012 report revealed that seven Filipinos commit suicide every day – a troubling rate of one person committing suicide every three and a half hours. The National Poison Management and Control Center (NPMCC) of the Philippine General Hospital reported an estimated 2,558 suicides in 2012.

In the same year, a WHO report showed that the Philippines has the highest incidence of depression in ASEAN-member countries, with an estimated figure of 4.5 million. WHO also found that 16 percent of Filipino students aged 13 to 15 had “seriously” contemplated suicide in the previous year. Thirteen percent had actually attempted suicide.

YOUNG, DEPRESSED PEOPLE

In the same report published by the NPMCC, 46 percent of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth sector; 30 percent are young adults aged 20 to 35-year-old while the remaining 16 percent are teens aged 10 to 19 year old.

Mid last year, Tristan Yuvienco, a student from the University of the Philippines, conducted a survey on mental depression among college students in Metro Manila.

With a sample size of 135 students from select universities ages 16 to 24, 96 percent of the participants reported having experienced an episode of moderately intense to very intense depression during their stay in school. The survey further revealed that academic work was the biggest factor that led to “depressed feelings”, followed by family issues and relationship-related problems.

Yuvienco’s study also found out that more than 50 percent of the students who experienced depression felt a lack of understanding from friends and family. This finding – that most depressed students find no empathy from people close to them – is an important observation. The lack of empathy therefore aggravates depression. This discovery can help experts develop more effective treatments for depressed people.

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS

According to the message of Pope Benedict XIV during the 47th World Communications Day, the development of digital social networks is helping to “create an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.”

Internet, although an ungoverned space, can be a “true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion”. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not just merely open spaces where we share our thoughts, ideas and information with just one tap of a finger, but also a platform where we lay bare “ultimately our very selves.”

“Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there,” added Pope Benedict XVI.

Linguists, psychologists and scientists have learned that what we share on social media can signal information about our mental health. The famous study of Professors and Scientists Fowler and Cristakis, entitled “Three Degrees of Influence”, shows that our social networks transmit emotions and subliminal signals which influence behavior up to three degrees (first degree, friends; second degree, friends’ friend; third degree, friends’ friends’ friends) by and large, everything we say or do ripples through our social network.

Social media has become a platform for individuals to express suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and intent. The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have ran out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending.

Although sharing suicidal thoughts can relieve feelings of isolation, talking about it in an open space like social media, often than not, may provide relief. Thus, suicidal thoughts and messages posted on Facebook or Twitter are red flags that need early intervention.

Last year, Facebook updated an important tool which is designed to help users support friends and loved ones expressing suicidal thoughts and behavior. Facebook is the first social media platform to provide users with a set of comprehensive tools, including the ability to report concerning posts.

A NEW MEDIA MINISTRY

Social media is today’s ‘new media’ ministry. The Global Web Index conducted a survey of internet users aged 16 to 64 in the third and fourth quarter last year where the average daily use of internet via PCs and tablets is 9 hours. That’s more than the required amount of sleeping hours for a normal person. Moreover, the index showed that the average daily use of the internet via mobile phones is about 3 hours and 36 minutes.

These data has helped us realize that social media is the next big thing people can utilize in doing ministry work. Social media has given everyone a voice. It’s a vast space for everyone where people can link up with family, friends and all those who matter. While people continue to harness the full power of social media to connect and interact with people around the world, they also shape the experiences of others as they shape their online experiences.

According to Saint (Pope) John Paul II, the internet is a new “forum” where politics and business are transacted, where religious duties are fulfilled, where much of the social life of the city take place, and where the best and the worst of human nature is on display. On the other hand, the internet is a place rich in humanity; “a network not of wires but of people” too. Yet sadly, the stimulus for deeper thought, understanding, and real-life connection and authentic encounter with one another may be lacking.

Social media is already a major part of the lives of people around the world today, especially the young. These are the same people who need love, compassion and tenderness in the physical world.

PS: It is worth adding that you can actually report a profile (on Facebook) if you feel/see that he/she is hurting his/herself. Facebook has partnered an anti-suicide organization based in US to help facebook users with a suicidal tendency. Here are the links: https://www.facebook.com/help/594991777257121/ and https://www.facebook.com/safety/wellbeing/suicideprevention.