BY: KWAKU BROBBEY, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS, MENTAL HEALTH AUTHORITY.
WHY IS SUICIDE OFTEN THE OPTION OF CHOICE
For every incidence of suicide act carried out, society should be held responsible for not in the least reaching out or connecting to victims in their moments of depression, pain or agony that led them to commit the act. This disconnect has however been compounded by the current state of Ghana’s Criminal Code, which criminalizes suicide and attempted suicide in the country. People with suicidal thoughts are compelled to keep their thoughts to themselves for fear of being victimized and perhaps prosecuted if they disclose such thoughts, or should they fail to successfully complete the act of suicide.
In an individual’s desperate moments, death may sometimes seem the easy way out. That is why many people have attempted suicides and others unfortunately have completed it. Ending one’s life does not come that easy. The explosion in the incidence of suicides in modern times in my view seems to emanate from the “ease” of carrying out the act or acquiring tools and implements that could be employed to put an end to one’s life and as such his/her “suffering”. Methods of committing suicides the world over vary between countries. Some of these methods are hanging, consumption of poisonous substances, stabbing, jumping from heights and the use of firearms. Victims in various countries have predominantly used methods and tools that are readily available and fit into the country’s economic, social and cultural indulgence. For example in advanced economies, methods such as use of firearms and jumping from heights have been commonly used while methods such as hanging and the consumption of poisonous substances are widely used in less developed economies or lower middle income nations like Ghana.
So this is happening in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable. ‘Connect, communicate, care’ is the theme of the 2016 World Suicide Prevention Day celebration. These three words are at the heart of suicide prevention, and I reproduce below the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s assertion on the essence of connecting, communicating and caring.
WHY CONNECT, COMMUNICATE AND CARE
Connecting with people who have lost loved ones to suicide or those who have attempted suicidal themselves may provide insights that are crucial to furthering suicide prevention efforts. People who have attempted or have planned it may help us understand the complex interplay of events and circumstances that led them to that point, and what saved them or helped them to choose a more life-affirming course of action. Again, those who have lost someone to suicide, or supported someone who was suicidal, can provide insights into how they moved forward on their journey. The sheer numbers of people who have been affected by suicide would make this a formidable network. Of course, these connections should be two-way.
There will often be times when those who have been bereaved by suicide, and those who might be feeling suicidal themselves, need support. Keeping an eye out for them and checking that they are okay could make all the difference. Social connectedness reduces the risk of suicide, so being there for someone who has become disconnected can be a life-saving act. Connecting them with formal and informal supports may also help to prevent suicide. Individuals, organizations and communities all have a responsibility here.
Open communication is vital if we are to combat suicide. In many communities, suicide is shrouded in silence or spoken of only in hushed tones. We need to discuss suicide as we would any other public health issue if we are to dispel myths about it and reduce the stigma surrounding it. This is not to say that we shouldn’t exercise necessary caution; we don’t want to normalize suicide either. Careful, considered messages about suicide and its prevention are warranted, as is an awareness of how different groups of individuals may receive and interpret this information. Equipping people to communicate effectively with those who might be vulnerable to suicide is an important part of any suicide prevention strategy. Broaching the subject of suicide is difficult, and these sorts of conversations are often avoided. There are some simple tips that can help, however. Most of these relate to showing compassion and empathy, and listening in a non-judgemental way. People who have come through an episode of extreme suicidal thinking often say that sensitively managed conversations with others helped them on their course to recovery. The media also have an important role to play in suicide prevention. Some types of reporting on suicide (e.g., prominent and/or explicit stories) have been shown to be associated with ‘spikes’ in suicide rates, but others (e.g., those that describe mastery of suicidal crises) have been shown to have a protective effect. Media recommendations have been developed by the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization to assist journalists in getting stories right.
All the connecting and communicating in the world will have no effect without the final ingredient – care. We need to make sure that policy-makers and planners care enough about suicide prevention to make it a priority, and to fund it at a level that is commensurate with its significance as a public health problem.
We need to make sure that clinicians and other service providers care enough about it to make suicide prevention their core business. And we need to make sure that communities care enough about it to be able to identify and support those who may be at heightened risk. Most of all, we need to ensure that we are caring ourselves. We need to look out for others who may be struggling, and let them tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Those who have been affected by suicide have much to teach us in this regard.
But at the center of this all will be the urgency in repealing the law that makes suicide a crime and not see it as a social and psychological issue. We will be able to make inroads in effectively connecting, communicating and caring if there is the freedom to share and talk about suicide and suicidal thoughts without having to look over our shoulders.