Perhaps Sunday’s commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day was not one of the more high-profile events on the international calendar, but it was nonetheless a day that should not go unnoticed.
The commemoration provides a useful chance for all of us to reflect on how, in matters involving the suicidal, the smallest gesture can mean the difference between life and death.
According to one estimate, Trinidad and Tobago has the 41st highest suicide rate in the world. That’s more suicides per 100,000 people than even the United States (which ranks at 50 out of 170 countries). Regionally, we are exceeded only by Guyana and Suriname.
Disturbingly, while we have been ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, our suicide rate has increased in recent years. And more and more young people are affected.
Many of these tragic deaths have been attributed to failed relationships and family issues. Economic problems have also been a contributing factor, according to Prof Gerard Hutchinson, Head of Clinical Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Globally, more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. But behind all these statistics are the individual experiences of those who have, for many different reasons, privately questioned the viability of their own lives. And those who may have made a suicide attempt that went undetected.
Each one of these individuals is somebody’s mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, partner, friend, neighbour. Each exists within a community. Some may have great social ties and a perpetually expanding Rolodex. Others may be less social, and some may be ostracised and isolated. Regardless of the situation, we all have an important role to play in supporting those who are vulnerable.
It is a myth that a person who exhibits suicidal behaviour is beyond assistance. One effective method of suicide prevention is making sure individuals do not have access to the means to take their lives. This would include placing restrictions on the purchasing of deadly pesticides, backed by rules and laws that are properly and consistently enforced.
Another strategy is to ensure individuals are aware of services available and where they can turn to for help. For example, services such as Lifeline are valuable in suicide prevention. Anyone in need of counselling or support can contact the suicide hotline at 645-2800 or 645-6616.
A comprehensive, multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy should be adopted by both the public and private sectors.
This is a matter of public health. It is also a moral issue: all nations should treat with priority its most vulnerable.
There can be no doubt that changing attitudes in relation to mental health are also a key precursor for a more effective suicide prevention strategy.
Too often are mental health issues poorly understood. The discourse often veers between caricatures of people who are mentally ill to outright dismissals of the profound and tangible impact a mental health condition can have on someone’s quality of life.
Talking openly about suicidal feelings and the question of mental health is a positive step. Therefore events such as next October’s Youth Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk & Campaign Launch — organised by the Youth Ambassadors TT group — are most welcomed.
With the nascent recognition of the deleterious impact of social media on the mental health of millennials and those who have been raised in an Internet age, parents must also be mindful of State-issued guidelines about the management of social media.
Let’s all remember how even small things can add up and save lives.