Director, Mindwise Project
Most people don’t even think about suicide until it turns their world upside down. However, our reality is that suicide is shockingly common.
More people in our world die by suicide, than war and homicide, HIV, Malaria and Breast Cancer. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2019 over 700,000 people died by suicide, which is one in 100 deaths, or one death by suicide every 40 seconds.
October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, but its significance carries throughout the year as suicide is a major health problem here in our twin island home, where we have the third highest suicide rate in the Caribbean, with one person dying by suicide every 3.5 days, or two persons per week in 2020, a rate that holds pretty steady for the past decade according to statistics provided by Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
Mindwise Project, a local mental health nonprofit organisation, has been committed to sharing our local story of suicide to help bring the issue home for Trinidad and Tobago.
Noting that suicides in Trinidad and Tobago might also be under reported, the possibility that these numbers might be even higher should bring us great concern.
Sounding the alarm for men and boys
As we look at the numbers coming out of the pandemic in 2021, we must sound the alarm for young boys and men, with the youngest life lost to suicide this year being a nine-year-old boy. Eighty-nine percent of the suicidal deaths as of September this year were boys and men, with 77 male lives lost. In 2020, 80% of 104 suicidal deaths were boys and men, with a significant number of those being men over the age of 60 years.
Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, Past President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP), had this to share with us: “Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a steady increase in the number of boys and men who end their own lives prematurely. Men are far more likely to die by suicide, as high as four times the rate of women…the most common anxieties that are of cause for concern include stressful life events such as school stress, family problems, relationship issues and financial debts.” She states, “We must shift the cultural paradigm of silence and make it easier for boys and men to talk about how they are feeling.”
Our local statistics also reveal a continuing trend of suicides taking place amongst the adolescent and under 15 demographic in the last few years. Dr Nakhid-Chatoor, shared further insights into the mental health experience of adolescents in the pandemic. “Isolation, boredom and loneliness has increased mental illness for teenagers with pre-existing mental health disorders. While technology has opened up links for them to readily access information, there are significant mental health risks associated with its increased usage. The effects of technology on children and teens can also impact their social skills, increase isolation and loneliness and decrease their developmental and cognitive levels of functioning.”
There is hope. Suicide is preventable
According to the WHO, the foundation of prevention is to understand what puts a person at risk. Some risk factors worth noting for prevention are prior suicide attempts; substance or alcohol abuse; depression and mood disorders; social isolation; chronic disease or disability; and lack of access to behavioural health care. Inherited trauma, stress from violence or bullying, and other factors such as the end of a relationship, death of loved one or parent, an arrest or financial problems can increase that risk.
COVID-19 has tested our emotional grappling as adults, but it has also affected our children drastically. Parents may not be familiar with how to help their children manage, if they themselves are having a difficult time adjusting and coping to the new reality which COVID-19 presents.
Anxiety worsens in children as they may not always communicate their worry or fears directly to their parents. It is well documented that parents miss the symptoms when they themselves are enveloped in their daily struggles and are not open-minded to notice short-term behavioural changes. These symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting, can be pertinent hints of a “stressed out child”. Others have trouble completing assignments or concentrating on exams. Some children have physical effects, including stomach aches, headaches, asthmatic events, skin allergies, alopecia or disruptions in their menstrual cycles.
Many anxious children keep their worries to themselves and thus, the symptoms are missed or deteriorates into depression.
Learn the warning signs
Educate yourself on the warning signs of suicide to support those closest to you. These can include feeling helpless or a burden to others, increased drug use, changes in mood and sleeping habits, saying goodbye and giving away possessions.
Things you can do to support someone who may be contemplating suicide:
●Ask – Don’t be afraid to ask if someone may be thinking about suicide. Check-in with friends, family and co-workers. Ask if you may be worried.
●Listen – Be patient and non-judgmental when persons share thoughts and feelings about their pain.
●Support – Encourage persons to seek help before they experience crisis. Ask how you can support them during their difficult time.
For local emergency and crisis support:
Lifeline : 800-5588/ 866-5433 TOLL FREE, 220-3636
Free Crisis and Emergency Services - www.Findcarett.com