Saturday 24 August, 2019

Suicides up 30% in 2018

Stock image of a depressed male. (PHOTO: iStock)

Stock image of a depressed male. (PHOTO: iStock)

The suicide rate jumped by 30 per cent in Jamaica last year, moving from 47 deaths in 2017 to 61 in 2018. This year has got off to a worrying start as there have been seven suicides since the start of 2019.

Regional clinical psychologist at the North East Regional Health Authority and executive board member of JamPsych, Dr Pearnel Bell, is concerned about the alarming rise in the number of suicides.  

"One is just too many, it is a real problem," she told Loop News reporter Claude Mills. 

“The exact statistics as to suicide ideation is not readily available but could be measured in part by the number of para-suicide (attempted suicide) cases reported in the accident and emergency department of regional hospitals throughout the country. Since the start of the year, we have not seen a lot in our region (NERHA), nothing different than the year before, but we have to find a way to reach potentially suicidal people,” Bell stated.

Although statistics show that Jamaica has one of the lowest rates of suicide per capita, Bell said that the factors which lead to suicide and suicidal ideations, such as mental illness, abound and should not be ignored.

"I am really concerned about suicide ideation, especially among young people. No one wants to feel that suicide is an option, we want people to know that there is a solution to their problems, and that they should seek the advice of guidance counsellors or adults that they trust, or who they can turn to in times of inner conflict. Suicide and suicide ideation should be taken very seriously," Bell said.

Studies have actually shown that most persons who commit suicide were, at the time of the act, suffering from clinical depression. The global statistics indicate that one in four persons will experience a mental illness at some time in their lives. 

Bell remarked that  “the days of scoffing at mental illness are over".

"At a recent seminar at the Knutsford Court hotel called 'Winning Minds: Creating a Culture of Mental Health Wellness in the Workplace', we rolled a blueprint for mental health in the workplace. There is no policy document that governs mental health in our places of employment, and that should not be, because it is everybody's business," Bell said.

In 2018, 46 per cent of the number of males who committed suicide were in the age group 20 to 39, a significant number of working age males. 

"We need a more proactive approach taken to help stave off mental illness by putting appropriate measures in place to help create mental wellness in the family, organisations and the society as a whole," she said. 

Males in the 60-69 age group were also at risk as in the last four years, 43 males out of a grand total of 243 committed suicide, almost 18 per cent.  

Over the weekend, a 16-year-old Trinidadian girl is reported to have committed suicide after her mother took away her mobile phone after finding out that she had been posting revealing photographs on social media. The teenager drank a poisonous substance at her home in Wallerfield, East Trinidad.

Bell noted that suicides don't often occur because of one incident. 

"It often a reaction to a gradual build up of things that eventually leads to thoughts of self-harm," Bell said. 

She also noted that there are a number of psychosocial factors that could impact on young people's mental health, including family discord and sexual, physical and emotional abuse. But Bell noted that excessive social media habits may be exacerbating mental illness among young people. 

“In the school environment, it could be bullying and cyber bullying. Many young people's definition of themselves today is linked to social media. When this sense of self is eroded by cyber-bully, it could result in self-harming behaviour," she said.

A 2018 U Report survey on the impact of social media on adolescent and youth mental health revealed that 47 per cent of 821 respondents, aged 13-29, believed that social media had the most impact on their mental health.

“We want young persons to be aware that for every problem, there is a solution, and self-harming behaviour is not a problem-solving strategy. Suicide ideations do not help; they only hinder problem-solving strategies. If they are feeling depressed, tell someone who can provide the help they need to feel better and to get on with life that is so full of hope,” Dr Bell continued.

A mental health/suicide helpline is to be established by the Ministry of Health, in partnership with the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Choose Life International (CLI), to provide support to persons in need of assistance.

Last year, it was announced that the dedicated helpline, 1-888-NEW-LIFE (1-888-639-5433), will be toll-free, providing 24-hour assistance to persons with mental health issues seeking help. However, repeated attempts by a Loop reporter to access the hotline proved futile. No one answered on any occasion. Checks with the Ministry of Health revealed that the number will be in operation "within a few weeks".

"If anyone feels the need to call, they can call the 888-ONE-LOVE number will connect to a representative in their parish," a Ministry of Health representative said.   

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