Talk­ing about sui­cide

Stabroek News - - EDITORIAL -

On Sun­day last, the world ob­served Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day; the global theme was ‘Take a Minute, Change a Life,’ in a push to re­duce the an­nual world­wide death rate, es­ti­mated at some 800,000 by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, based on statis­tics gath­ered from around the world.

In many coun­tries, pre­vent­ing sui­cide has long be­come a pub­lic health pri­or­ity. So much so that rather than have just a one-day ob­ser­vance, a week is set aside and in some places, in­clud­ing New Zealand, Aus­tralia, the United States and the United King­dom, the en­tire month is be­ing used to bring aware­ness to this trou­bling men­tal health is­sue, lead­ing right up to World Men­tal Health Aware­ness Day on Oc­to­ber 10.

There is cog­ni­sance that the global theme should not be taken lit­er­ally as it takes way much longer than a minute to turn some­one away from sui­ci­dal thoughts and in so do­ing change that per­son’s life. De­pres­sion is one of the pre­cur­sors of sui­cide and in many cases, it can take years of ther­apy or in some in­stances med­i­ca­tion to treat this com­mon men­tal health ill­ness. Other causes in­clude cri­sis, stress and sub­stance abuse, and in chil­dren and young peo­ple, bul­ly­ing and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der stem­ming from vi­o­lent abuse. Re­search also sug­gests that con­ta­gion, which oc­curs when per­sons, mostly chil­dren and teenagers, learn of or ob­serve their peers com­mit­ting sui­cide, leads to in­creases in at­tempts and ac­tual deaths.

It is im­por­tant though, to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween talk­ing sui­cide, which can en­com­pass con­ta­gion, and talk­ing about sui­cide which can lead to turn­ing some­one away from thoughts of it. How does one do this? Well this is where the pro­fes­sion­als come in. It is not enough to sim­ply say that per­sons should talk to rel­a­tives and friends who might be con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide; it is im­por­tant that they know what to say. In some coun­tries, men­tal health aid is taught to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies just as first aid is; it ad­dresses how to speak to peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems and is very nec­es­sary.

Of course, there are hot­lines, helplines, coun­sel­lors and doc­tors that per­sons in trou­ble can call or ap­proach. How­ever, it is well known that in some cases per­sons who are de­ter­mined to kill them­selves do so with­out reach­ing out for pro­fes­sional as­sis­tance. In other in­stances, rel­a­tives and friends might not no­tice symp­toms that some­thing is wrong and if they do, the per­son could very well deny it.

One way of en­sur­ing that per­sons in cri­sis have ac­cess to the ser­vices they need is to pro­vide it on the spot. If for in­stance some­one has en­dured a vi­o­lent trau­matic episode, it is not enough to give that per­son a re­fer­ral to coun­selling ser­vices which they have to call and make an ap­point­ment. Such ser­vices should be read­ily

avail­able on site, pro­fes­sional as­sess­ments should be made and fol­low-ups done, by tele­phone, text mes­sage or in per­son if nec­es­sary, if the pa­tient does not re­turn at the ap­pointed time.

This is what one might ex­pect to oc­cur in places where ad­dress­ing men­tal health and sui­cide pre­ven­tion are im­por­tant. Un­for­tu­nately, this does not cur­rently take place in Guyana. There have been sev­eral in­stances where fam­i­lies in cri­sis were not of­fered any coun­selling. A re­cent case in point is the fam­ily of Ron Pil­grim, whose tod­dler daugh­ter was re­cently mur­dered, al­legedly by a rel­a­tive. In an in­ter­view with this news­pa­per, which was pub­lished on Sun­day last, Mr Pil­grim re­lated the ef­forts he has been mak­ing to cope since the tragedy.

Mr Pil­grim works two jobs, long hours, which barely give him enough time to sleep. He re­lated dur­ing the in­ter­view that his two older sons have been very af­fected by their sis­ter’s death and are un­will­ing and per­haps un­able to sleep in the small shack they call home. As a re­sult, he has been forced to leave them at his for­mer girl­friend’s home on the nights he works. He said he was un­sure how much longer that would con­tinue. It was clear that up to the time of the in­ter­view, the Pil­grims had had no con­tact with coun­sel­lors or so­cial/wel­fare ser­vices.

In an­other re­cent case, nurs­ery school teacher Cindy Daw­son was found un­con­scious in her Cum­mings Lodge home near the dead body of her hus­band. She was taken to hospi­tal and was later re­leased into the care of rel­a­tives. She was liv­ing with her brother at Char­ity, Esse­quibo Coast when

she walked out­side and qui­etly hanged her­self.

Mrs Daw­son was ob­vi­ously very af­fected by her hus­band’s death. It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that her be­ing dis­cov­ered un­con­scious with his body could have been as a re­sult of an at­tempt to end her life. How­ever, that was never es­tab­lished. What was also not known was whether Mrs Daw­son had ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices, given her trau­matic event, which was well known and pub­li­cised. If she did, was she re­ferred to sim­i­lar ser­vices in Esse­quibo? All signs point to this not be­ing the case.

Min­is­ter in the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health Dr Karen Cum­mings at Guyana’s ob­ser­vance, had said that sui­cide is pre­ventable and it is, but only when ef­forts are made to pre­vent it. This was clearly not the case with Mrs Daw­son. There have been sev­eral other sim­i­lar in­stances that have been raised in this col­umn be­fore. It is not enough to just have a men­tal health plan, it must work. It was un­likely that some­one in Mrs Daw­son’s state of mind would have called a hot­line or used any other re­source; she did not even reach out to her own rel­a­tives. But her sui­cide, like all oth­ers, was one that could have been pre­vented.

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