As officials deliberate the impact of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness on incidences of suicidal ideation and suicide in The Bahamas, it is important for the nation to take stock of how a deterioration of key pillars of society is leading to more and more people feeling life is no longer worth living.
This week, Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands revealed results of the ministry’s 2019 STEPS survey which indicated that over 17,000 adult Bahamians (6.3 percent) seriously considered attempting suicide within the last year, with 2.6 percent reporting having an actual plan to take their own lives.
Reports of suicides in the country are on the increase.
Research on suicide conducted in countries throughout the world points to several key social factors that contribute to suicide rates and rates of depression, most prominently being a lack of strong social networks of support, a loss of extended family ties and social isolation suffered by people within society.
The family is where an individual first develops a sense of identity and sense of worth. To the extent that the average household in our country is unstable, disconnected, unloving or cut off from a wider network of supportive relatives, members of that family run a greater risk of feeling lost and insignificant.
The “village” concept of raising a family is almost a thing of the past nowadays, the result of which being children who do not have a relationship with or even a knowledge of their relatives that gives them a sense of belonging and purpose in an ever-changing world.
Knowing one’s neighbors has morphed into isolationism where we are either too afraid to connect or uninterested in doing so. As communities grow, the vulnerable and often overlooked in our society slip through the cracks, as it were, living a solitary life where their place in the country can seem of lesser importance.
Deteriorating dynamics in the family unit have created cold, hostile and in some cases, dangerous home environments for far too many of the nation’s children, who in a desperate attempt at finding connectedness, affirmation and sense of family, spend inordinate amounts of time engaged in the use of social media.
A growing body of global research has linked social media usage to increased incidences of depression in teens. Depression is linked to a higher risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
As users of social media would know, it is in many ways a toxic platform with research indicating that youngsters are typically unable to positively cope with the effects of consistent social media usage where bullying and attacks are routine, and where images of unrealistic ideals of perfection, attractiveness and accomplishment leave teens with feelings of shame and unworthiness.
If a study of Bahamians under the age of 18 was conducted, we might be alarmed to learn how many children and teens have thought about taking their own lives.
When one factors in the immense financial pressure many adults in the country are under as they struggle unsuccessfully to make ends meet in an environment where cost of living and inflation continue to strip away at one’s buying power and sense of esteem as a breadwinner, it is not surprising that many Bahamians have at one time or another considered bringing a permanent end to their pain and struggle.
But those thoughts, outside of the effects of mental or chronic physical illness, are less likely to be acted upon when people can feel that life is worth living for its own sake, despite the challenges one may face.
This is why it is critical for each of us to take an honest look at the way we treat ourselves, our loved ones and those around us, because the country is likely to be at greater risk of losing people to suicide as time progresses if we, through our action or inaction, continue to create a society where a man, woman or child would no longer wish to be.