Today, Saturday 10th September 2021, is globally marked as Suicide Prevention Day with a repeated befitting theme captioned “A renewed worldwide commitment to prevent suicides: creating hope through action”. The theme encourages us to rethink our proactive actions to reduce the incidence of suicide. Over the years the day has been commemorated to raise awareness about the risk factors and triggers of suicide. In addition, the day is observed to inform the populace about the strategies to prevent suicide and manage suicide behaviours. Education and awareness programmes about suicide have become very critical more than ever because several individuals are severely impacted by various societal and personal issues that drive them to choose suicide. The painful global statistics that “somebodydies by suicide every 40 seconds” should be changed for the better.
Last year, we were hit by this concerning media reportage of suicide deaths almost every day as confirmed by the data. For example, in 2018 the number of people who attempted suicide was 797. This rose to 880 in 2019 and marginally dropped to 777 in 2020. By June 2021, that was just mid-year, 417 people had been recorded as attempted suicide and more than doubled to 902 in 2021 while those who completed suicide went up from 69 in 2020 to 86 in 2021. There are others that are also not reported because of stigma and fear of community repercussions. This implies that these figures could potentiallyeven be higher than we know. This unfortunate behaviour is not specific to a particular age group, sex or profession but occurs across all the social classes and demographic indicators. One person dying by suicide is confronting and these suicide figures are painfully far too high. There must be a unified effort to end this phenomenon.
The cry for help – warning signs
In most cases when people have suicidal thoughts and intend to act, they exhibit behaviours or express thoughts that are indicative of the action they intend to pursue. These are warning signs that we must all be familiar with. These signs are a means of communicating to other persons that they would really appreciate some help to prevent them from killing themselves. These warning signs are a “cry for help”. It is for this reason that we must know them and provide support as needed. The major warning signs include openly expressing the intention to kill oneself, withdrawal from family, friends, and society, expressing no sense or purpose in life or in continuing to live. They may engage in painting, writing, talking about death, dying or suicide, expressing hopelessness and finding ways to kill themselves. They may look for poisonous substances, rope etc among others. These are easy simple notifiable warning signs that signify a cry for help, and we must promptly act to help. They may be seen sighing too often, suddenly arranging things in order or instructing how to take care of dependants or express a desire to travel without knowing when they will return. They may have a pre-existing depression or may be driven to an instant stress reaction from some worrying factors like debts or bereavement.
Decriminalising suicide behaviours
That is why the object of decriminalising suicide attempts in our statutes is of essence. Simply put, these individuals have cried to us for help, and we failed them. They took action to kill themselves and thank God they survived. Must we punish them when we rather failed them? Definitely not! Luckily, we have made some progress in the advocacy to decriminalise suicide attempt. A private member’s bill sponsored by the chairman of the legal, constitutional, and parliamentary committee of Parliament and his ranking member is seeking to have the law criminalising attempted suicide repealed from our criminal code. Currently, it is with the select committee and will have to move to the floor for members to accept the repeal of the law. All commendations to the sponsors and the select committee. In the meantime, we should not relent in this advocacy to take every opportunity to remind our honourable members to repeal the Act.
- Acquire Knowledge and seek for help
No one needs to die by suicide, we should take every opportunity to learn about suicide, its warning signs, how we can help someone in distress and seek professional help for that individual. There is professional help available in this country to assist families and individuals who find themselves in such situation. A visit to a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor and to a medical facility is a source of help. As a matter of fact, even in the last seconds, a conversation with the right person is able convince the individual to rescind their decision. Some telecommunication companies have come in to support us establish a dedicated suicide prevention call centre. This will be manned by professionals to counsel people who need help. The process is currently in its final stages and the centre will be launched in a couple of weeks when the operational details will be shared accordingly.
We should be aware of the psychological difficulties preceding suicidal thoughts and behaviours. There may be social pressures, economic challenges, family issues, workplace difficulties, domestic issues, challenges of raising children, etc. These may precipitate an acute stress reaction or push people into depression. Therefore, it is time for organisations to protect their important human resource by promoting and integrating mental health interventions in their work culture because all workers are at risk of experiencing some mental health challenges at some point in time. That way, they can maintain productivity and save lives as well. In the midst of all the prevailing challenges, these personal phonelines are used as helplines and are available to support individuals in crisis.
055-538-3056 – Ashanti
020-922-8954 – Brong and Ahafo
024-425-5594 – Central
024-401-4348 – Eastern
024-424-9928 – Greater Accra
024-450-8838 -Northern, North-East, Savanna
024-395-0520 – Upper West
020-630-4788 – Upper East
024-267-1862 – Volta, Oti
024-489-0018 – Western, Western North
Finally, let’s keep the advocacy fire burning and we appeal to everyone to make a personal commitment to acquire some knowledge on mental health and importantly the warning signs of suicidal thoughts because using this knowledge can save somebody’s life. For anybody going through challenges making you want to take your life, we appreciate your situation, but we request you to kindly postpone any action on suicide and get help or call any of the lines above or other lines you can find on the internet and you will live to be a testimony to others.
Let us all work together
God bless Ghana
God bless us all.
Source: Mental Health Authority
Nana Yaw Owusu/Ashanti Region