By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas has experienced what appears to be an abnormally high suicide rate so far in 2019.
However, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday he is uncertain if a suicide hotline is effective in reducing such incidents. Still, he noted his ministry has budgeted a dramatic increase in funding for mental health services in the upcoming fiscal year.
With seven months left in the year, there has already been more suicides this year than the yearly total for any of the past seven years, according to The Tribune’s records. Police suspect five people have committed suicide this year.
Since 2008, there have only been two years that more suicides have been recorded in an entire year: 2012 and 2010, according to this newspaper’s analysis.
From 2008 to 2018, the country averaged a rate of three suicides a year.
In an interview with The Tribune, Dr Sands said the budget process isn’t complete yet, but the ministry has prioritised certain things and now is waiting to see what the budgetary allocations will be.
“...Then we will have to reprioritise depending on what that final number is. Certainly, a suicide hotline was not a budgetary priority or a problematic priority. Not that I’m being stubborn, but I believe we can use scarce resources more effectively.
“Our big problem is that we have stigmatisation of mental illnesses. We talk about the ‘Crazy Hill’. Oh I don’t want to go to Sandilands (Rehabilitation Centre) …I’m not going to see no psychiatrist.’ There is where our emphasis needs to be, it’s on removing the stigma that prevents people from getting much needed help.”
Dr Sands said the country needs to shake off the stigma that getting help for mental health issues is a sign of weakness.
“As you talk with people who have family members battling depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder and so on and so forth, this is one of the most least supportive countries in the world. We look at our major medical insurances they don’t have much coverage for psychiatric disorders; major medical plans.
“…If you look at community psychiatry options, community psychology options available to public patients, (it’s) limited very limited. That’s where our emphasis is and that’s one of the reasons why we sought to renew the mental health tribunal so they can now start looking at these kinds of issues to adjust the approach for persons with mental health challenges.”
When asked if he thought the Bahamas needed a dedicated suicide hotline, Dr Sands said: “Now you have a hotline, now what? You got people employed 24 hours a day covering this hotline seven days a week and then you ask the question ‘did it make a difference’ and some will say at least you had it, you did something. Well (there’s) no point doing something that won’t work.
“Maybe the investments ought to be on a public education campaign or further mental health strengthening to get people to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression, educate the public that this is not about not being strong enough and you’re not a weak person because you’re depressed. There are so many other things that are necessary to strengthen the support for persons with mental health challenges.”
He added: “If we had a more sophisticated network of support services for depressed people or people who are potentially suicidal then I would say fine that’s the next step but we have other steps we have to take that we haven’t taken yet that would probably be more effective.”
Last week, police said they were investigating an apparent suicide after a woman was discovered unresponsive with injuries to her body in a residence on Falcon Crest, Eastern Estates.
Last month a man was found hanging from a beam in a closet of a residence on Haven Street off Lightbourn Street in Chippingham.
A family member found the man, said to be in his mid-50s, unresponsive.
In February, a man was found with what police believed was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his upper body at an apartment in Kennedy Subdivision.
In March, two people allegedly committed suicide in separate incidents: a man at a Winton Estates residence and a woman at a residence on Paradise Island.
The man, 41-year-old Dimaggio Darrell, was a father of four.