Suicide has affected all segments of our population, but the suicide of a nursery school teacher earlier this week once again highlighted the fact that young adults are particularly vulnerable. For us to get a handle on this problem, we must acknowledge the need to increase public awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma associated with the illness, and provide adequate resources to treat those in need.
Exactly three weeks after her husband succumbed to typhoid and malaria, the young teacher committed suicide. It was another tragic loss of life.
It is no secret that suicide has become a public health crisis. The public is aware of how critical the problem is, but the system has continued to fail those with mental health illness. While the State spends billions on healthcare annually, interventions are rare, and monitoring and treatment are infrequent. Very little is done in terms of psychological and counselling services. But there is a role for the wider society to play.
Too often people are afraid to talk about their mental health issues due to all sorts of pressure and expectations. Studies show that most men are outraged when discussing their emotions because they view it as an affront to their masculinity. Women are afraid of being perceived as weak or overly temperamental.
The truth is there are too many stereotypes at work when it comes to mental health issues. Efforts must be made to address them. The incidence of suicide shows that mental health issues should have the same primacy as matters of life and death. The impact of suicide cannot be overestimated because when it happens, entire families and communities are irreparably damaged. The trauma that persists after a suicide is committed has often manifested itself in insidious ways, and at unpredictable intervals. It could do untold harm to productivity, but more importantly, a great promise is unfilled and maybe a bright future is lost forever.
One of the major challenges when it comes to tackling mental health issues, especially among teenagers, is the accompanying stigma. We reiterate that mental health is a serious public health concern and until it is seen as such, we will continue to lose lives needlessly.
Too often in society, clear signs of distress amid the hustle and bustle of modern-day stresses are being missed. We treat mental health issues as fleeting when they may reflect long-term patterns. Many with mental health problems are often misdiagnosed and efforts to find solutions to the problem have not been successful.
The young teacher’s recent demise should be the catalyst for us all to arm ourselves with the knowledge of mental health issues and spread the word to those who would not have heard. Knowing the warning signs is important, and there are several of them, including withdrawal from friends and family members; trouble in maintaining romantic relationships; difficulty getting along with others; changes in the quality of schoolwork or low grades; rebellious behaviour; being bored or distracted; running away from home; changes in eating habits; dramatic personality changes in appearance; sleep disturbances; drug or alcohol abuse and even talk of suicide.
One of the basic things we as a people can do is not treat suicide and mental health issues as being taboo. Talking about suicide is important in order to understand the pain and grief experienced by those who would have taken their lives.
This is an issue that is not going away anytime soon. According to the World Health Organization, by 2020, there will be more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide by suicide. In Guyana, suicide has taken far too many of our loved ones. We must do what we can to prevent these tragic and devastating losses.
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