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Confronting the challenge of suicide prevention

Editable vector silhouette of a man sitting with his head in his hand; background made with a gradient mesh

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Twitter: @gordon_lp

Last month a 15-year-old committed suicide near his family home in Williamsville. His family was left in shock and confusion since outwardly there were no signs to suggest the boy was suicidal. His father said he “seemed to be happy”, was doing well at school and involved in extra-curricular activities.

In February, a 16-year-old took her life reportedly after her mother confiscated her cell phone.  In July, a Petrotrin worker committed suicide after becoming depressed from losing his job. These are a few cases that made the news. Many do not.

Suicide is a “pretty serious” problem in Trinidad and Tobago said Dr Gerard Hutchinson, Professor of Psychiatry at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Faculty of Medical Sciences. Suicide attempts and self-harm have become prevalent.

Dr Hutchinson said T&T’s suicide rate “hovers between 11 and 15 per 100,000” with more males, in a ratio of about 3:1 compared to females. Guyana has the highest suicide rate for the Caribbean region with 29.2 per 100,000 and is ranked third in the world for suicide rates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Health Ministry has called suicide a major public health issue and a National Suicide Prevention Strategy is being developed by the Ministry aimed at reducing the prevalence of self-harm and suicide.

Prevention is the aim of Tuesday’s (September 10) Suicide Prevention Day, organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) to galvanise the global community in engaging with the problem of suicide and collaborating to spread awareness

of suicide prevention.

IASP states, “Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.” Suicide also impacts others; IASP said for each suicide an estimated 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected.

“Suicidal behaviour includes suicide, and also encompasses suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of suicide.”

Sometimes it is difficult to understand why people choose not to continue living. How can someone who appears to be happy decide to

end their life?

Dr Hutchinson said there are persons who present a happy public face but inwardly they are dealing with many psycho-social challenges, “if not a full-blown mental health problem like depression, anxiety or some other disorder”.

He said all behaviour exists on a spectrum.

“There are some people who never have the thought [of suicide]—the idea would never occur to them at all—and there are a variety of reasons for that. Then there are people who would think it, in response to particular situations or some existential angst, ‘What am I here for?’ but it is all very abstract. Then in some people, it gets progressively more concrete,” he said.

Persistent thoughts may cause individuals to do research and even plan. “Those will be the people who will start giving away things, writing suicide notes and preparing for their exit,” Dr Hutchinson said.

Different populations for example, persons with mental illness, those incarcerated or going through a period of persistent stress and struggle are at high risk.

Murder-suicides are usually related to suspected or known infidelity in the relationship or a partner who fails to live up to some social expectation and the consequent inability to cope. Alcohol use may also be a factor.

In spite of the above, Dr Hutchinson said most of the time here in Trinidad and Tobago, suicidal behaviour is impulsive. He explained, “They fall out with people; they have an argument; they lose their job or fail an exam; and then there’s a suicidal response” but for that to happen, it suggests they were struggling emotionally or mentally before that particular incident occurred.



A person might be suicidal if he or she:

Talks about committing suicide, has trouble eating or sleeping, experiences drastic changes in behaviour, withdraws from friends and/or social activities, loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc; prepares for death by making out a will or final arrangements, gives away prized possessions, has attempted suicide before, takes unnecessary risks, has had recent severe losses, is preoccupied with death and dying, loses interest in their personal appearance.

Visit for a listing of mental health and wellness centres.