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Dr. Sands: What you say could save a life

Some people facing suicidal crisis may not appear obviously distressed, others may show changes in behavior
Bahamian psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Barrett encourages people to understand the importance of mental health and wellbeing. He says that health is not the absence of illness and that because something isn’t wrong doesn’t mean it’s right. Speaking at the Doctors Hospital Distinguished Lecture Series, Barrett said people can help by paying attention to others in distress, and not just dismiss them by telling them to pull themselves together. He says they should encourage those at risk to seek help, and to understand risk indicators when it comes to suicide and self-harm. FILE

If a loved one complained about sustained chest discomfort, you would likely advise him or her to see a doctor.

The same would probably happen if your female friend discovered a lump in one of her breasts or experienced troubling breathing.

But what would you do if a relative complained about feelings of depression or showed signs of despair?

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said the same rule should apply – insist that they seek help or offer to help yourself.

“The absolute critical need for each and everyone one of us to pay attention to the warning signs of suicide as we would for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension etc. is the key to our collective success,” said Sands as he addressed the Suicide Prevention Symposium at Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road.

September 10 is observed as World Suicide Prevention Day.

“Signs that a loved one may be at risk are often unclear, and may be difficult to interpret. Some people facing suicidal crisis may not appear obviously distressed, others may show changes in behavior, and nothing alarming or even indicative of the personal crisis that precedes suicide.

“Then there are others who openly talk about taking their own lives, but it’s just pushed aside as drama and attention seeking. It is usually a combination of factors that lead to suicide – debt, living alone, bereavement, bullying and a breakdown in the family structure from divorce or death can all play a part.”

According to the World Health Organization(WHO), close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which translates to one person every 40 seconds.

Suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. In 2016, it was listed as the 18th leading cause of death worldwide.

In The Bahamas, we record an average of approximately 10 suicides per year, according to a WHO report, which was updated earlier this year.

And while this represents one of the lowest rates in the Americas, Dr. Duane Sands noted that the rate needs to be reduced further.

“We have the power to prevent the next suicide in this country,” Sands said. “People who are suicidal are not weak; this is an unfortunate myth that perpetuates the stigma surrounding this issue. People who are suicidal are in great need of our empathy, compassion, and time.

“Bottom line, suicide is preventable. Our responsibility in this fight is to keep ourselves and others better informed about the warning signs of suicide, just as we would for any other illness.”

Sands said a person may be in acute danger and may need help urgently if he or she exhibits these signs: talks about wanting to die; looks for a way to commit suicide; talks about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talks about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain; talks about being a burden to others; increases intake of alcohol or drugs; acts anxious, agitated or reckless; sleeps too little or too much; withdraws or isolates from others; exhibits rage or talks about seeking revenge and displays extreme mood swings.

Pointing to the global statistics on suicide, Dr. Sands said there is a “critical need for each and every one of us to sit-up and pay attention to the warning signs that a friend or loved one may be contemplating suicide, or even that we ourselves may be harboring thoughts of suicide”.

According to WHO, Bahamian men commit suicide at a far greater rate than Bahamian women.

“There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide, there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide,” the WHO report added.

Sands also pointed to the impact that suicide has on the family and friends of the victim.

Dr. the Hon. Duane Sands, Minister of Health, gave opening remarks during the Public Hospitals Authority Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre Suicide Prevention Symposium, at the Church of God Auditorium yesterday. (BIS Photo/Patrick Hanna)

“These deaths bring significant challenges at personal, family and community levels,” he noted.

“They cause ripples like a stone thrown into water, touching us all. The shock and bewilderment coupled with the guilt of not being able to prevent the act can last a lifetime for some.

“The sad truth is that many of us find discussing suicide difficult. We are often afraid to intervene, even when we think there is something seriously wrong because we don’t want to damage relationships, or make matters worse, or even increase the risk of our loved one carrying out the act.

“So, our silence becomes our captivity, and in the end, we suffer a lifetime for not saying anything. Similarly, some persons contemplating suicide are trapped by silence because of the stigma surrounding this issue. Some fear they will be labeled as weak, sinful and selfish. Ladies and gentlemen suicide, although it is an individual decision, in reality is a family, community and national problem.”

Noting the prevalence of suicide among young people, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) representative Dr. Esther de Gourville said PAHO is continuing to implement its mental health action plan, which seeks to reduce the suicide rate in the Americas by 10 percent.

Dr. de Gourville said PAHO considers suicide to be a public health problem.

“We hope that this awareness raising will help persons to recognize when others are at risk of suicide, take action when you observe changed behavior on a loved one, provide a listening ear, create an atmosphere of trust that allows your family members and friends the opportunity to talk about their problems, encourage persons to seek mental care for persistent depression.”

The symposium was sponsored by Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) in conjunction with PAHO.

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