A recent article titled “Proposed Pastoral Response to the Increase in the Number of Suicide Cases in the Philippines During the COVID‐19 Pandemic” was published in a Q1 Scopus-indexed journal, Journal of Religion and Health. The article was co-authored by Institute of Religion academic staff members Mr. Ivan Efreaim A. Gozum and Asst. Prof. Joselito G. Gutierrez, Ph.D., who are also affiliated with the Center for Theology Religious Studies and Ethics.
In the paper, Gozum and Gutierrez explored the reports and statistics concerning the increase in suicide-related cases during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though there were already known cases before the onset of the pandemic, some experts believe the pandemic contributed to the increase in the number of cases and may have produced added stressors that affected mental health. These include domestic conflicts and violence, financial loss, anxiety and depression, and pre-existing mental health conditions as factors in the spike in suicide cases.
Furthermore, the authors underscored the Church’s commitment to promote the sanctity of life in the midst of the health crisis. Different social issues that concern taking one’s life, or even degrading one’s value are addressed by the Church to uphold the inherent dignity of all persons. At the same time, it continues to update itself to respond to new challenges, including the problem of mental health.
Moreover, considering that access to basic health care in the Philippines is limited, the authors highlight that the Church and other sectors are encouraged to develop appropriate programs to assist individuals affected by the pandemic. In line with this, Gozum and Gutierrez proposed a pastoral program that includes a prevention, intervention, and postvention plan.
The proposed pastoral program was inspired by the Pastoral Letter on Suicide written by the Thomasian Cardinal, His Eminence Most Rev. José F. Advincula Jr., D.D., who highlighted the ”culture of presence” in the community. This program encourages collaboration among Church leaders and lay professionals who can assist in giving support to people involved in suicide-related cases.
The program also suggests that the Church can provide support groups and counseling services to create a safe environment for sharing experiences and healing together for persons who have attempted suicide or have family members who attempted or died as a result of suicide. Church leaders must implement emergency response protocols, which include measures for alerting emergency services, offering urgent assistance, and assuring the safety of the individual in danger. This step can only be completed if the Church and mental health specialists work together effectively. Individuals in crises might also benefit from parish prayer groups and receive spiritual advice and direction. The Church must also focus on the spiritual well-being of the members in order for them to experience a loving community, as indicated in the prevention plan.
The article adds to the growing literature on mental health studies since it provides an intersection between faith and science. The authors show that the Church can be of great help in the ongoing global concern on mental health.