The cabinet needs to catalyse a holistic multi-pronged approach to suicide

Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Voice absolutely commends the initiative of President David Granger in convening a high level cabinet meeting to craft a viable response to suicide, which seems to be sprinting towards a runaway crisis. However, we humbly and sincerely hope that this meeting catalyzes a holistic, concerted, sustained and multi-pronged approach, as anything less could end up being an exercise in futility.

And while we are certain that the level of expertise and abilities at that meeting, would have considered every possibility, we seize this opportunity to reiterate the following, almost all of which have been in the public domain for some time now:

  1. Convene a meeting of selected NGOs and other stakeholders as a next step in the process with the aim of setting up a national coordinating committee and, perhaps down the road, regional coordinating committees. This would ensure that duplication is avoided, scaffolding takes place, resources are maximized, follow-up is sustained and the work of NGOs and activists is coordinated, monitored and supported. Incidentally a call for such a committee was mooted at the National Stakeholder’s Confer-ence on Suicide and Related Issues, organized by The Caribbean Voice and its partners in August 2015, at Cara Lodge.
  2. Focus on collaboration, rather than an insular and individualistic approach, to maximize impact as widely as possible, and foster piggybacking, so that suicide prevention awareness can take place regardless of the forum and so that the greatest possible number of persons can be involved in promoting prevention.
  3. Take steps to extend the suicide hotline nationally and engage in an aggressive promotion campaign that can involve all the media, the private sector, the education and health sectors and celebrities, VIPs and high profile spokespersons.
  4. Reach out to suicide survivors (those who had attempted suicide as well as the loved ones of those who committed suicide) and engage them in sharing, as their experiences can have a defining impact as well as create emotive connections with their audiences. This can be one facet of an intense

education programme that addresses myths and misinformation about suicide, dispels the taboos that surround it and enables the average person to be more understanding and more sensitive about suicide and its connotations.

  1. Bring back the Gatekeepers’ Programme and use it as a mechanism to train first responders in every community. These are the persons who can be the eyes and ears of the community to proactively identify warning signs and put in train a process to help those in need. It must be noted that such persons may also be able to build trust much easier than ‘strangers’ and provide comforting/safe scope for those in need to open up. No one can doubt that a large part of the problem is that so many who commit suicide kept things bottled up and thus family and friends invariably exclaim that they never saw/knew that anything was wrong. After all they are not trained to identify the warning signs and to engage in empathetic communication, as first responders would be.
  2. To the current terms of reference for the poison control centres, integrate measures that would ensure the safest possible use and storage of agro-chemicals, the safest possible disposal of containers and a process that would not only ensure that bona fide farmers are the only ones allowed to purchase such chemicals, but that they are monitored to ensure the highest degree of responsibility in handling and usage. We have already, many times, referenced the Sri Lankan model of hazard reduction as an exemplar in this respect.

Social activist, Sherlina Nageer recently expressed online her frustration in trying to get embracing help for a woman who seemed suicidal. It was clear that had there been a coordinating committee fostering a holistic approach, the person in question would have gotten all the help needed, rather than piecemeal and uncoordinated assistance that was provided and that did nothing to get her out of the suicidal mindset. In fact, this experience makes it clear why so many fall through the cracks and why so many more never want to seek help.

Yours faithfully,

Annan Boodram

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