Local professionals speak out on World Suicide Prevention Day
By Adia Wynter
Today, as the world pauses to draw awareness to ways to prevent suicide on a global scale, two local officials have underscored its importance.
World Suicide Prevention Day – marked annually on September 10 – is based on the World Health Organization’s belief that effective and evidence-based interventions can help prevent the 800,000 global suicides each year.
Andrea Airall, education officer with responsibility for guidance and counselling, shared her thoughts on the necessity for suicide awareness programmes in Antigua and Barbuda.
“I do believe we need some more levels of suicide awareness, and we also need to expose [young people] to the sort of help that is available to them so they know that there is an outlet and ways and means that they can reach out,” she said.
Counselling psychologist and child mental health and suicide prevention advocate, Alaina Gomes, also pointed out that although today’s young people carry burdens different from those of the older generations, the weight of those burdens is no less heavy.
“They have a lot going on,” she said. “There is more work at school they have to put in; they are pressured now to come to different aspects of social media that fall in line with body image, how they’re supposed to act, how they’re supposed to think, so I think there are a lot more pressures now as opposed to before.”
Gomes also suggested that one preventative measure that can be adopted by parents is to provide attention to and comfort for their children.
“What I would tell parents is to try their best to listen, comfort and reassure their children. Try to ask questions, for example, ‘how are you feeling today? Are you concerned about anything? Are you worried about anything?’ Those general types of questions get children talking,” she said.
“Once you get them talking, you listen. A lot of the times parents don’t necessarily listen to their children … you put down the phone for a bit, you maintain eye contact, you ask them different questions, and they will know that you care about them.”
Airall also suggested that families should make a collective effort to prevent mental health issues by nurturing their young children.
“I don’t think it is something that starts as a teenager; it is something that starts as a young child,” she said. “It’s a matter of probably setting up family meetings on the weekends, while you’re having Sunday dinner or Saturday morning breakfast – whichever works for your family.”
Airall recommends engaging in activities that are of interest to the children would make way for an easier, more open conversation.
“Do something together, and you have that conversation so there is that interest that you are paying to the child so they understand that there is that support system that is available to them.
“I am not saying that there aren’t other issues that can potentially lead to suicide, but I’m just saying that sometimes, some of the issues are within our very control,” she noted.
Airall also added, “I think also, we need awareness for the general public, and I will even go as far as to say we need awareness for the media because sometimes I get very disheartened when there is an attempted suicide or a completed one.”
Beyond the familial reach, Gomes suggests checking in on friends. “The best thing I would say is to check up on your friends. Don’t necessarily ask them if they have been having suicidal thoughts, but see how they’ve been doing, how they’ve been feeling and gauge that.”
She added, “Let them know that you, at least, are there and you’re willing to listen so that they have somebody to talk to because that is the biggest thing.”
According to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (JHLS) III (2016/17), depression is one of the main predisposition factors to suicide. The survey suggested that the national estimate of the prevalence of depression was 14.3 per cent with men at 9.9 per cent, and women at 18.5 per cent.
What are the warning signs?
- Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead.”
- Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
- Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.
- No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There’s no way out”). Belief that things will never get better or change.
- Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden (“Everyone would be better off without me”).
- Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.
- Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
- Self-destructive behaviour – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”
- Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.