In June another life was abruptly snuffed out. The body of a 27-year-old mother of three was discovered hanging at her Morne Du Don home. Two months later, two other suicides, one a male British national, the other a 65-year-old Laborie man who was found hanging from a tree near a beach.
So far this year Saint Lucia has recorded at least eight suicides; a worrying trend that some have blamed as a consequence of our economic situation that has resulted in unprecedented unemployment figures, food security concerns, stress and depression.
Can the suicide rate be slowed down? Yes, it can, according to the health ministry’s mental-health services team. On September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, the team put on an exhibition and symposium under the theme: Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.
According to psychologist John M. Grohol (founder & CEO of Psych Central), every day around the world families and friends grieve the loss of a loved one due to suicide. “Not once, not twice,” says Grohol, “but over 2,000 times per day someone takes his or her own life.”
Researchers say suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among individuals 30 to 49 years old. It is the second leading cause of death in the 15-29 years age group. For each adult who died by his or her own hand in 2012 there were 27 suicide attempts.Speaking to the STAR this week Mrs. Charmaine Hippolyte-Thomas executive director of the Saint Lucia Mental Wellness Center acknowledged the disturbing local statistics.
“Naturally we are concerned about the recent increase in the number of suicides, the grief this brings to family members and how it affects the society as a whole,” she said. “So this year we decided to mark World Suicide Prevention Day in a meaningful way.”
She is also hoping that this can be “a prelude to creating awareness ahead of the observance of October as Mental Health Month.”
According to the local health care worker, suicide figures for the period 2009-2012 totaled to 35, of which 33 were male. For the period 2009-2014, however, there have been 63 recorded cases: 51% male, 49% female.
“Not only are we witnessing a change in pattern but our productive sector is also affected,” she said. “A high percentage of those who have committed suicide are between 25-49.” Wednesday’s World Suicide Prevention Day exercise included an art and craft exhibition and a symposium that attracted close to 200 people. Among the topics tackled: “Exposing the myths about suicides; depression and suicide.”
“Most people attach a stigma to depression and mental health,” Hippolyte-Thomas observed, “and this is what we are trying to change. And although we may not always know the exact triggers, we do know relational problems, unemployment and depression are leading factors.”According to some respected sources, depression is more common than AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined, and nearly 400,000 people annually attempt suicide in the U.S. And while unsurprisingly precise data is not readily available for the Caribbean, a recent study points to multiple risk factors including lack of social support and mental disorder, which account for 90% of the region’s suicides.
“Most people who are feeling suicidal are depressed; they feel they are alone, that nobody understands how hopeless is their situation. They also believe they have no one to turn to; nobody to talk to about their problems.
“We have developed into a society that does not really care as we used to, we have gotten very busy with our daily routines and sometimes miss out on the signs, we don’t pick up on what some persons may be going through-until it is too late. If we can change this, if we can educate people and dispel the myths surrounding suicide I truly believe we can reverse the disturbing trends.”
Next month Saint Lucia observes Mental Health Month with a focus on schizophrenia.