Saturday, March 16, 2013

More Than Meets The Eye

The recent sad news about a University of the Philippines (UP) Freshman taking her life due to financial problems ignites the flame once again about the tuition fee increase that the State University has implemented for the past years. 

My take on this is that, we should take this issue from all sides. Don't simply blame the University, and don't simply blame the family. Suicide is a very complex issue. It does not stem from a single factor, but I believe that someone commits suicide because of several things that may have accumulated over time. And from this burden, a small trigger can result to the person losing control and jumping to do the inevitable.

Articles and news reports were very quick to blame the University for the reason the student committed suicide. They said that the reason the student took her life was because the she was forced to take a Leave of Absence after not being able to pay the tuition fee for the semester. And from this, the University was put under scrutiny once again. People started to complain and campaign against tuition fee hikes. For your information, the State University charges 1000 PhP (Philippine Pesos) per unit. This was a 300% increase from my tuition last 2004 (which was 300 PhP per unit). This 300% increase took effect a few years after my graduation and the UP community was divided with regards to this issue. I, for one, was in favor of this. Not because I'm an alumni already and wouldn't be paying the increased fee (thus not caring if they increase it or not), but because after studying in the university for 4 years, I believe that it is indeed time for it to increase its budget to maintain the high quality of education that it gives. The 300 PhP per unit fee was the tuition fee for, God knows how long. The University hasn't increased or adjusted its fee with the economic struggles, inflation and all other financial problems that the country has faced for the past 2-3 decades. How then do you expect it to maintain its buildings and resources in good condition? The hallways are dark and gloomy. The chairs are definitely older than the students. The microscopes we use in our college are working, but not in their best conditions. I could go on and on about these things, but I won't. My point is that, this tuition fee increase is justified. Now, people are saying that UP is a state University and the tuition fee of its students is subsidized by the Filipino taxpayers. So why the increase? Then ask as well, if indeed it is subsidized by the taxpayers, then why is the University budget so low? If the budget is decent, then the University doesn't need to do this tuition fee hike. Thus, it stems to the Government and the education budget. This is a very complicated discussion and I don't want to go into it. I just want to say that one should not be quick to blame the University for having these tuition fee hikes. If you want to continue with quality education, you have to have a good budget to fund your teachers and resources. If the Government can't give the school the budget, then UP has no choice but to increase the tuition fee. You cannot expect the University to live on a budget that was made 20 or 30 years ago and still deliver the same quality education. 

On another note, I've said that suicide is a complex matter. The patient, in this case, has been showing classic signs of depression. But the support was not there. This is where our competency in Mental Health comes in. A colleague of mine has posted in his Facebook account about how sad this was. If the student was given Mental Health support or just counselling, then this tragic event could have been avoided. So this time, it's our health sector that is under scrutiny. Mental health still has the stigmata in our society today. Sadly, this should not be the case. Because Mental Health is as important as our physical health. If someone is not mentally healthy, one can suffer from anxiety, depression and eventually, a person loses control, becomes psychiatric or worse, suicide is the end result. We should really try to remove the stigmata from Mental Health problems. The act of simply reaching out, telling a person that maybe one needs help is a big thing. These people who are depressed or anxious just needs someone to reach out to them, to listen. It's not bad to seek professional help about this. Psychiatry is not for those who have lost their minds. Psychiatry addresses Mental Health issues which includes depression. And a depressed patient is not just someone asking for more attention. Severe depression is serious and shouldn't be taken lightly. 

I don't usually talk about heavy stuff in this blog, but I felt I just had to say something about this issue because people have been very quick to blame the University for the suicide. It is just the tip of the iceberg and it is not the sole reason for the suicide. As I said above, suicide is a complex issue. Let's not make this a simple issue of tuition fee hikes. There is more to it than meets the eye.


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