On Thursday September 10th 2020, the Bahamas joined countries around the world in observing World Suicide Prevention Day, as part of an annual initiative to raise awareness of suicide, and how to prevent it and reduce its devasting impact on society. The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) and the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) hosted a virtual Suicide Prevention Symposium, under the theme “Working Together to Prevent Suicide” via ZOOM. During the virtual symposium, a panel of esteemed speakers outlined the problem, and highlighted prevention strategies and approaches, within the context of the worst public health crisis in our lifetime – COVID-19.
Ms. Alexandria Johnson (psychologist) and Dr. Tracey King (psychologist) spoke to the risks associated with special populations on both ends of the spectrum; children and adolescents as well as the elderly. Ms. Johnson referred to adolescent specific research which she has spearheaded in the country in recent years. Her research findings suggest a strong link between mood related disorders and suicidal specific behaviors in adolescents. She highlighted school engagement as a protective factor against suicide risk.
Dr. King noted an increase in suicide attempts and thoughts among older adults. Hence the need to ensure that access to lethal means is reduced. King further observed the need to decrease barriers to mental healthcare, including reducing stigma related to mental health services, and stressed the shared responsibility to promote good mental health within society. Dr. Wendy Fernander (psychologist) gave a comprehensive overview of the situation in the Bahamas and introduced a framework for a coordinated national response. Fernander demonstrated how the Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) Network, established shortly before hurricane Dorian was repurposed to the meet the mental health needs of persons during Covid-19 and also functions to prevent suicide. This framework has facilitated the training of Healthcare professionals, and laypersons to render psychosocial first aid and refer persons for help as needed; She recommended a nationwide strategy to address mental health needs and improve access to treatment facilities and community support services.
Suicide Risks Factors include but are limited to: a family history of suicide; trauma; previous suicide attempt; history of serious mental disorders; especially depression, substance use, significant psychosocial stressors, hopelessness, isolation, physical illness, easy access to lethal means, and stigma creating a barrier to seeking help Suicide Warning Signs include but are not limited to: Making suicide threats, negative self-image, giving away possessions, self-injury, frequently talking about death, feeling like a burden, and possessing lethal means.
What to do if someone you know is talking about suicide and displaying suicide warning signs: these are some useful tips to employ:
- Ask questions
- Listen without judgement
- Respond with Kindness
- Get Help
Suicide is complex and cannot be placed in one model. It is multi-faceted and requires a multi-sectoral