AT around this time two years ago, one of the country’s leading psychologists had provided a perspective that Trinidad and Tobago was ranked third among countries in the Caribbean with respect to suicide rates.
Dr Katija Khan was speaking at a forum marking World Suicide Prevention Day in her capacity as the immediate past president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists, she said then that World Health Organisation figures showed this to be an issue which affects all demographics—men and women, young, middle-aged and elderly. But in the Caribbean, she said, persons of East Indian descent were more prominent among the fatalities. Then, we were behind Suriname and Guyana.
Director at the Mental Health Unit at the Ministry of Health, Dr Hazel Othello, told a public forum last week that based on the most recent WHO figures, this country now ranks sixth for suicide as the leading cause of death.
Such an update suggests this might be a marked improvement in our profile in this particular health and wellness category. But it in no way means we should relax the urgent sense of awareness, or the advocacy around addressing its causes, and the means by which it becomes an option for distressed citizens.
Dr Othello’s update revealed that for the first six months of this year, 74 persons had died by suicide. In 41 of those cases, the method was hanging and in 23 cases, it was with the use of a “poisonous substance”. She said also that the most recent WHO data listed T&T as having a suicide rate of 12.9 per 100,000 of population, which exceeds the global average of 10.5, and the regional average of 9.3.
Discussions have centred around the still too easily accessible herbicide known as Gramoxone, which is banned or disallowed in 30 countries around the world, including the EU. It is also severely restricted in a host of others, including the US and China.
Speaking on this aspect of the matter in 2018, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said the pesticides and toxic chemicals board was considering a proposal to ban its importation and distribution. This is even though there is a requirement for the substance to be mixed with an ingredient which induces vomiting, and to create an unpleasant smell.
Two years later, the minister could only report that the matter is still before the board, which is under the Ministry of Health, while “stricter regulations” have been implemented regarding its storage and sale.
Where also there has been greater discussion around the issue of mental health, and of the need for more persons in distress to access such services where they exist, a clear shortage of professionals and services exists to thwart these efforts.
Professionals continue to decry the chronic shortage of resources at mental health clinics to meet current needs. This results in high patient-to-doctor ratios and long wait-time to get appointments.
They also argue for more open, honest discussions about the issue, in the assurance that this itself works as a barrier. On these and other fronts, therefore, we must continue to intensify national resolve against suicide as an option.