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Suicide is 6th Leading Cause of Death in TT

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By Sue-Ann Wayow

THE sixth leading cause of death for citizens of Trinidad and Tobago between the age group 15 to 49 years is suicide according to a 2017 report.

And the country’s suicide rate is above the global and regional average.

At a virtual media conference on Wednesday, Dr Hazel Othello, Director of the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit said the statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated the need for firmer strategies on suicide prevention.

Dr Hazel Othello. Screen shot taken from virtual media conference of the Ministry of Health

Othello said the Covid-19 pandemic was threatening to increase suicide because of increased frustration and hopelessness and such intervention was critical at this time.

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 annually. The theme for this year is “Working together to prevent suicide.”

Describing suicide as a public health hazard said, “Trinidad and Tobago suicide rate of 12.9 per 100,000 population ranked 38th in the world and 6th in the region of the Americas exceeding the global average of 10.5 per 100,000 and the regional average of 9.3 per 100,000 population. This indicates a significant need for comprehensive and sustainable intervention as a public health imperative.”

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Giving additional global statistics, Othello said according to WHO, 800,000 people die from suicide annually which was equivalent to one person every 40 seconds.

“While there is no single reason why persons end their lives by suicide, this public health hazard affects every country, ethnic group, age group, income group, basically it affects persons across the board. Although it affects both genders, more men die by suicide than women,” she added.

In a 2017 Global Burden of Disease statistical report, the WHO stated that suicide is a leading cause of death in children, ranking 14th among those ages five-14 years old, for the 15 to 19 year age group, it is the third leading cause of death globally and if that age group was expanded to 15 to 29 year olds, it was listed as the second leading cause of death globally, Othello said.

She said for every person that died by suicide, many more attempted the act.

Othello said almost 80% of suicides occur in the low and  middle income countries and the most common methods used include ingestion of toxic substances – frequently pesticides, hanging and the use of firearms.

She said while suicides can be labeled as an impulsive act, it was generally preventable but required the input of various sectors including government, mental health professionals, social workers, faith based leaders and employers.

“Intersectional collaboration is critical for the success of suicide reduction strategies,” she said.

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Some prevention strategies included: reducing access to means of suicide, responsible reporting by the media, school-based intervention, reducing harmful use of alcohol and other substances, effective accessible mental health and substance abuse services in addition to general health care services, training specialised health workers in their assessment and management of suicidal behaviour and follow up care as well as community support for persons who attempt suicide.

Othello said, “It takes work to prevent suicide but together we can make significant progress towards that goal.”

The public is encouraged to spread awareness that suicide is preventable.

“Educate yourself and others about suicide prevention, show compassion and care to persons in emotional distress, challenge stigma around suicide and in help seeking behaviour, and share your own experiences if you had been affected by suicidal behaviour,” Othello said.

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