Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
Psychologist/Immediate Past President (TTAP)
The month of September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month. This Thursday, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day and many countries around the world will be lighting a candle at 8 p.m. in remembrance of those who have fallen victim to mental ill-health issues and made the decision to take their own life. The theme for this year is Working together to prevent suicide. Suicide is by definition, an intentional, purposeful act. It is a public health crisis and does not discriminate against class, age, or gender. If preventive measures are put in place by governments (WHO, 2019), it can be a global and preventable public health concern.
For Trinidad and Tobago, the outlook is very grim as for this year 2020, there have been 74 recorded deaths that are known, 59 males and 15 females. More than 17 males over the age of 60 years chose to end their life, and one wonders if the fear of getting the dreaded coronavirus was a variable in these decisions. Compared to Chicago, USA with a population of 8.8 million people, its suicide figures stood at 58 persons for this same time period whereas TT has a current population of 1.4 million and our figures are at a high of 74. Should we care? Suicide does not happen randomly. Death by suicide happens when pain exceeds one’s resources for coping with the pain. In many instances, most persons want to find some alternative to suicide, and suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are based on important needs that are perceived as not addressed.
It is a fact that COVID-19 has added new stressors to persons’ lives as many have lost their jobs, their homes or have had to close their businesses. Intimate partner violence and domestic abuse has increased and persons with pre-existing mental health issues may not have access to their health-care providers or been taking their prescribed medications. Physical distancing and social isolation, while protecting physical health, are also key factors which endanger mental health and increase the risk of self-harm, suicide ideation, and suicide.
The IASP (International Association for Suicide Prevention) June 2020, the world’s leading organisation on suicide prevention has stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of people’s lives, relationships, health and well-being—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. During public health emergencies, it is vital that mental health and suicide prevention remain priorities. Reports of high levels of anxiety and psychological distress have significantly increased in recent weeks in response to the evolving pandemic and the severe social control measures introduced by governments across the globe to suppress the virus. It is important that we all as individuals do what we can to look after ourselves and each other”.
Let us work together to prevent suicide. Community efforts are needed here—the alert person who has not seen his neighbour for days and goes looking for him with a listening ear and sound advice; the parent who notices the daughter or son’s withdrawal and actively seeks help from a mental-health provider and so on. Individuals who die by suicide have often been struggling with serious problems such as depression, social distress and unemployment, alcoholism, and other forms of abuse.
Taking one’s life is not the way to deal with a challenge but in most instances, the persons who do so are not thinking clearly or rationally. Another important risk factor is a previous suicide attempt which may have been ignored by family members and classified as attention-seeking behaviour.
Not everyone is resilient and can face the storms of life with positivity. Let us be vigilant and pay attention to those most vulnerable among us—without rancour or blame, judgement or disdain. Learn to recognise the warning signs (wanting to die, talking about being a burden to others; feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and unbearable pain; withdrawal, taking risks, eating or sleeping more or less; alcohol and substance use more often), and make sure your friend or family members get the care that they need. Go to our website at www.psychologytt.org and press the red button. We are still here for you during this pandemic. Be safe.