Let us take action to raise awareness on suicide – Dr. Osei
Dr. Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive Officer Mental Health Authority (MHA), said there was the need to raise awareness on the scale of suicide attempts, which in recent times has developed among the youth and children.
He said the issue of suicide had become more crucial because victims in recent times were mostly the youth and children, making the phenomenon more worrying.
“It is often believed that it is only adults who exhibit suicidal behaviours, but it should be made known that many children and young people engage in this phenomenon as a result of violence, sexual abuse, bullying and cyber bullying, among others.”
Dr Osei said this on Thursday in Accra at the launch of the 2019 Mental Health Week celebration, which is on the theme, “Suicide Prevention”.
He said it had been 25 years since the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) created a platform for people in all nations to recognise, promote and create awareness on mental health issues.
He said this year’s, theme follows after the World Suicide Prevention Day, which fell on September 10 on the same theme, saying the focus on suicide and its prevention by the mental health fraternity worldwide speaks volumes of mental health as a public health crisis that was manifesting through suicide.
He said suicidal behaviour had existed throughout human history, but due to several complex factors, it had increased gradually in all parts of the world and in the past few decades, had reached alarming statistical levels.
"The WHO puts the figure of people who die by suicide a year at more than 800,000, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old. Thus every 40 seconds, the world loses someone to suicide”.
Dr Osei said in Ghana, statistics of some five years ago was 1500 deaths per annum through suicide.
“In one month when we tracked the calls for help against suicide, by one single line alone, we had 45 calls from people ranging from 18 to 35 years, most of them from relationship problems, socio-economic problems and pre-existing mental health challenges. Most of them, 60%, were women and 35% were students.”
He stated that suicide was a global public health problem that deserved the attention of all actors: those in the field of mental health, including scientific and professional organizations, organizations for mental health users and their families, the media and educational institutions particularly the universities.
It also deserves particular attention from national health authorities whose responsibility it was to craft policies and directives aimed at establishing strategies to prevent suicide and promote the public mental health, as well as the media.
He said there were numerous complex factors that contributed to a suicide, but what was most important was that all of the actions must be geared towards prevention, saying it was important that trans-sectorial interdisciplinary action be taken by all actors.
“The link between suicide and mental disorders in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders is well established. However, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.”
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse or loss and a sense of isolation were strongly associated with suicidal behaviour.
Dr Osei said suicide rates were also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) persons and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide was a previous suicide attempt.
He noted that getting people to talk about the subject that tends to be a taboo and about which many held mistaken and prejudiced ideas would help our Ghanaian communities learn about the risk factors so that they could identify and learn to address them.
Some of the activities lined up for the celebration include TV quiz program “What Do-You-Know" organized by BasicNeeds, on October 13, Open day for facilities and in units in some regional and district hospitals, various health walks and screening, various talks by the Psychiatric Association of Ghana and other representative bodies on various media platforms.
He reiterated the fact that the country had come to a stage in its national development to consider decriminalising suicidal behaviour or attempted suicide, since attempted suicide was often times a sign of depression or some other form of mental illness and a cry for help.
He said suicide was preventable and could therefore be avoided, if all efforts and public policies were focused on prevention, adding however oftentimes, people who suffer from mental illness lacked access to mental health services, sometimes due to no services in their community, or being asked to wait for months to be seen.
“We need everyone’s help, which is why we hope to receive contributions not only from the community but also from organisations made up of mental health users and their families so that we can share our experience of and knowledge about an issue as important and painful as suicide with each other.”
"The public can contact the national suicide prevention lifelines on 0509497705 and 0558424645 or www.qualityrights.com.gh for more mental health education."