#Hawid-laum: Did socmed radio trigger Oro's suicide cluster in September?
By Lina Sagaral Reyes
Last of two parts
Cagayan de Oro – As the world marked the annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day on September 10 this year, a series of suicide incidents swept across Cagayan de Oro.
By the end of the month, the wave of eight cases within nine days - - from the September 10-18 - - catapulted the year's total to 23. This number of cases has surpassed 2021's tally of 19 suicide incidents, with still three months to go before the year would end.
But as quickly as the wave rose, during most of the month's second half - - between September 19 and 30 - - there were only two cases.
What caused the sudden spike and the equally sudden decline?
Maria Dolores Mercado, mental health program coordinator at the Department of Health-Region10 non-communicable diseases cluster, says exposure to exaggerated live broadcast coverage that extends from traditional to social media, could be a major factor.
In different forums in recent months, Dolores, a psychiatric nurse and college instructor in psychiatric nursing, had always called out the local broadcast media for its sensationalised coverage of these events as this, according to her, could result in more "copycat" suicide cases in the city.
"This is called the Werther phenomenon," she said, quoting the latest Department of Health administrative order that sets guidelines for the ethical and responsible reporting and portrayal of suicide in mass media and the cultural arts.
She discussed this at a forum among journalists and in an online public service program at Oro Broadcast Services on October 8.
The Werther effect, first mentioned in 1982 by David Phillips, references Werther, the protagonist in Goethe's novel, The Sorrows of the Young Werther", who killed himself because of unrequited love.
In 1774,when it was first published, many young men, who has read this epistolary novel, killed themselves.
Many studies suggest that "media reports about people who have died by suicide can influence vulnerable people as is associated with higher rates of suicide," according to the Canadian Association of Psychiatrists, in its 2018 re-issue of a policy paper on suicide reporting guidelines.
Mercado revealed, without citing figures, that in Northern Mindanao, suicide cases had gone down this year but had gone up in Cagayan de Oro. "Adtong 2020,medyo misaka ang atong mga kaso (Northern Mindanao). Sa 2021,misaka pa gyud. Niubos na siya karong 2022. Pero half of the year pa man ang datos nga nag-abot." (The suicide cases went up in 2020. It went higher in 2021. The cases went down in this year but the data we have comprise only those in the first half of the year. ")
Region 10 is comprised of Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, and Camiguin.
But she further pointed out that suicide rates in the city had been always high, correlating it to the sensationalised, on-the-spot coverages of suicide crises.
"Pero daghan gyud cases diri sa Cagayan de Oro. Mao siguro kay diri ra man gud nga sensationalised kaayo ang pag balita." (The suicide rates had always been high in Cagayan de Oro. It is probably due to the sensationalised reporting. ")
She recalled how at one time, she heard the news as she was riding a taxi.
"Diha gyud time nga nagsakay kog taxi nga gusto na nako ignan ang driver nga adtoan nato na. Kay sobra ka sensationalised ug ka detalye."
More than 50 studies worldwide indicate that several factors could aggravate the Wether impact, including the duration, amount, and prominence of coverage. Also considered are the detailed description of the method used, dramatic images, and repetitive/extensive coverage.
If traditional radio accessed through transistor radio
If radio stations, with traditional and digital platforms, are a factor behind the surge in suicides, did they also contribute to the decline in cases after September 18th?
On September 18th, at around 8 p. m, a young man was seen at the edge of a protruded concrete platform holding the deck at Ysalina Bridge across the Cagayan de Oro River.
(Photo screencaptured from Bombo Radyo Cagayan de Oro FB Page)
A staff of a food delivery service company stopped by, climbed down to the platform, placed his arms over his shoulders, and talked to the young man in those crucial minutes.
Relatives of the young man as well as a rescue team from Barangay Carmen came by later.
"I saw him from afar as I was crossing over the bridge on my way to deliver a basket of chicken to a hospital staff. I also saw a woman trying to get the attention of the young man, raising both hands but the man would not turn around and instead was just at the edge, looking down on the river," Ace Tristan Dy of Grab Food Delivery, said.
We were strangers to each other but somehow we understood each other,Dy reflected.
He said he had no training in rescuing people but his mother had often told him that he had the gift of persuasive speech. He attributed his calmness and intuitive skills to Buddhism, which is a long-time family practice.
In a few minutes, the young man agreed to go with his relatives.
Aside from traditional media coverage, the Facebook pages of at least 5 radio stations shared these moments of rescue captured by the Sangguniang Kabataan of Barangay Carmen.
From September 18, there were but just a single report of an attempted suicide till the first week of the next month.
The decline could be what is called the Papageno effect.
Since a seminal study by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, evidence is growing that media can play a positive role in suicide prevention by showing that there are alternatives to suicide.
The phenomenon is named after Papageno, the character in the opera Magic Flute, who lost his love and contemplated suicide but was convinced by three boys to choose to live anew.
The station DXCC of the Radio Mindanao Network, among those which shared the story in its traditional broadcast as well as in its Facebook page, has, a policy to cover suicide responsibly, thus it covered the rescue extensively.Other radio stations like Magnum Radio, DXKO and Bombo Radyo and iFM Idol Radio also shared the posts.
Annaliza Amontos Reyes, program director at DXCC, said that their reporters are always reminded to follow the code of ethics of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) , of which the station is a member.
The KBP has a code of ethics which provides guidelines in how to report crises situations,among others. But it still does not have particulate guidelines in covering suicide.
When a suicide occurs and coverage is deemed necessary, Amontos-Reyes said that they (reporters) emphasize suicide prevention.
"We interview a psychologist so our listeners are educated what to do when faced with similar situations. And how we can help those who are suicidal."
As for sensationalised coverages as part of the strategy to beat others in the ratings game, she admonished a do-no-harm policy as more important.
" Bisan pa makataas sa ratings pero makadaot sa kadaghanan, dapat I-minimize. "
" Dili kay mas daghan pang komentaryo balhin sa nahitabo o sa pamilya kay sa pag-educate.
Focus ta sa pag educate. Unsaon nato malikayan ang suicide, unsaon nato pag tabang sa mga suicidal. Mas kinahanglan nato ang pag educate. "