During the pandemic, there was a documented surge in suicide cases in the Philippines. A newly published paper by Thomasian academic staff Inst. Ivan Efreaim A. Gozum, MA and Asst. Prof. Joselito G. Gutierrez, PhD of the Institute of Religion documents how the Catholic Church executed a pastoral response to address the issue.
The study titled “A Proposed Pastoral Approach to Address the Surge in Suicide Cases in the Philippines During the COVID‐19 Pandemic” was recently published in the Journal of Religion and Health, a Quartile 1 Scopus-indexed journal under Springer.
In their paper, Gozum and Gutierrez delve into the data and statistics related to the rise in suicide cases at the peak of the pandemic. While some cases were known before the pandemic, findings suggest that the pandemic played a role in increasing these cases and introducing additional stressors that adversely impacted mental health. These stressors included issues such as domestic conflicts, financial loss, anxiety, depression, and preexisting mental health conditions, all of which contributed to the spike in suicide rates.
Against this backdrop, the authors emphasized the Church’s commitment to uphold the sanctity of life amidst the health crisis. The Church addresses various social concerns related to suicide and the devaluation of individuals, while striving to uphold the inherent dignity of every person and adapting to address emerging challenges, including mental health issues. Given the limited access to basic healthcare in the Philippines, Gozum and Gutierrez advocate for the Church and other sectors to develop suitable programs to aid those affected by the pandemic. To this end, they proposed a pastoral program encompassing prevention, intervention, and postvention strategies.
The pastoral program draws inspiration from the Pastoral Letter on Suicide authored by Thomasian Cardinal, Jose Advincula, which underscores the importance of a “culture of presence” within the community. The program encourages collaboration between Church leaders and lay professionals to provide support to individuals involved in suicide-related cases. It envisions the Church offering support groups and counseling services to create a secure environment for sharing experiences and healing, especially for those who have attempted suicide or have family members affected by suicide. Emergency response protocols, including alerting emergency services and ensuring the individual’s safety, are deemed essential, requiring effective cooperation between the Church and mental health experts. Crisis-affected individuals may also benefit from parish prayer groups and spiritual guidance to foster a sense of belonging and support within the community.
This article contributes significantly to the expanding body of literature on mental health studies by helping bridging the gap between faith and science. It underscores the vital role the Church can play in addressing the global concern of mental health.
The article can be accessed here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10943-023-01865-w