Pacific Report: Suicide – Are we taking notes?

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SPECIAL PACIFIC FEATURE by Rupeni Vatubuli in Fiji. This is Rupeni’s first article for EveningReport.nz.

Suicide is increasing at a rate that most Pacific Islanders can no longer chose to ignore.

Atypically the act of intentionally taking one’s own life is brought about as a result of  depression usually accompanied with mental disorders, alcohol, financial and interrelationship problems.

Although an alarm will surface in news headlines – an alarm that is only raised at the expense of someone’s life – this is just like all the other news – there one day, gone the next .

Without being melodramatic, it leaves me frustrated when issues like suicide aren’t follow up on beyond occasional headlines. I mean, what’s happening between times, or more specifically “what has been done since the last incident?”

Behind the scenes how much of a struggle is it for the organisations and government ministries in charge of this issue to push for a reduction in the suicide statistics?        

As a person who has lost both a friend and relative to suicide, I would say my own labelling of suicide victims was naive and ignorant. Seldom would I have ever thought of suicide as the only way to end a victim’s suffering.

WHO estimated that over 800 000 people die due to suicide every year.

Fiji recorded 89 suicides from January to September this year, with 10 involving children under the age of 16 and a total of 30 people below the age of 25 taking their lives during the past eight months.

Last month, on Friday 18 September, classes for Secondary, Primary and pre-schools in Fiji were put on hold for a day as it was declared  “Suicide Prevention Day” soon after the death of three primary school students who were said to have taken their lives due to academic reasons by drinking a formula used for killing weeds.

For that week,  the spotlight was on the:

Any likelihood that such an incident might be repeated made every parent, school and Government ministry worry. Everyone was talking about “Suicide” whether to a relative or friend; or even posting on social media sites. No matter what medium was being used, “Suicide Awareness” (a topic usually considered as taboo) was finally out there in the open.

Right up till the Rugby World Cup 2015 hit… and just like that… suicide was a topic tucked away only to be brought up as statistics for the next kava session.

Who is at risk?

While the link between suicide and mental disorders – in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders – is well established in high-income countries, 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 are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are 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 is a previous suicide attempt.

Methods of suicide

It is estimated that around 30% of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries. Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.

Knowledge of the most commonly used suicide methods is important to devise prevention strategies which have shown to be effective, such as restriction of access to means of suicide.

Prevention and control

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at population, sub-population and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. These include:

  • reducing access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
  • reporting by media in a responsible way;
  • introducing alcohol policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol;
  • early identification, treatment and care of people with mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and acute emotional distress;
  • training of non-specialized health workers in the assessment and management of suicidal behaviour;
  • follow-up care for people who attempted suicide and provision of community support.

Suicide is a complex issue and therefore suicide prevention efforts require coordination and collaboration among multiple sectors of society, including the health sector and other sectors such as education, labour, agriculture, business, justice, law, defense, politics, and the media.

These efforts must be comprehensive and integrated as no single approach alone can make an impact on an issue as complex as suicide.

Links:

  1. http://www.who.int/gho/mental_health/suicide_rates/en/
  2. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs398/en/
  3. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/131056/1/9789241564779_eng.pdf?u
  4. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=320881
  5. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=321289
  6. http://www.consumersfiji.org/media-center/press-releases/trader-responsibility-is-vital
  7. http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Press-Releases/FIJIANS-ENCOURAGED-TO-PARTICIPATE-AT-SUICIDE-PREVE.aspx?feed=news
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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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