THIS week, the Commissioner of Police reported there were 11 suicides in 2020, up from eight in 2019. He said this was due to people — men, in particular — being “weak”. The suggestion is absurd, offensive and incorrect.
Suicide is an effect of mental illness. It may be that the mental illness is undiagnosed and untreated, it is not being treated with the right medication, or its treatment has been interrupted. It is also possible for medication to cause thoughts of suicide. Contemplating suicide is not, under any circumstances, a sign of weakness or personal failing.
We need to be able to recognise the signs of suicide. In some cases, the person talks about wanting to die or, more specifically, wanting to kill themselves. They may start looking for ways to do it. There are more subtle indicators that a person is considering suicide including talking about being a burden to other people, having no purpose and feeling trapped, and increasing use of alcohol and other substances. They may have mood swings, seem agitated, be more withdrawn than usual, or behave in a reckless manner.
In some cases, people have a sudden calmness. It is not uncommon for people to start making preparations when they have decided to end their lives. This may involve writing obituaries, giving away personal items, making plans to see people for what they plan to be the last time, and acquiring anything they may need to end their lives.
The risk of suicide can be reduced with appropriate intervention. People with mental illness, like people with physical illness, need specific kinds of support. They need professionals trained to help them manage the illness. They sometimes need medication which can be short-term or long-term, and we are already familiar with some of them such as Xanax, Zoloft, and Prozac.
Anxiety disorders are more common than many people realise. For some of us, the simplest tasks are completely overwhelming or our response to something ordinary suddenly changes and we don’t know why. We are so frequently told to “get it together”, “man up” and “put on our big girl panties” that we learn to see our struggles as personal failings or points of weakness.
Telling people to “be strong” is not helpful. Making comparisons to people who seem to be managing their lives well is not helpful. What we often see as weakness or character defects are mental illnesses that have not been diagnosed and treated. People are not being diagnosed and treated because they truly believe they are the problem, so they do not seek help. They may also want to avoid the stigma that still exists around mental health issues.
Since Hurricane Dorian, we have made important steps toward normalising mental health care. The 24-hour hotlines (816-3799, 812-0576, and 454-2993 for Creole) have been helpful. We now need focus on suicide prevention and suicide intervention.
The comments by the Commissioner of Police suggest he does not understand issues of mental health. Do officers have training in suicide intervention? Do 911 operators know what to do when someone calls in crisis? Sensitisation is an important first step, but we also need programmes and services to support people in crisis. It cannot wait.
WISE WORDS WORTH REMEMBERING
IT IS finally Inauguration Day in the US and there is, of course, both hope and fear. People do not know what to expect today, especially after the white supremacist attack on the US Capitol on January 6. On one hand many people in the US and all over the world are looking forward to the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration. On the other, there are concerns about the way white supremacists will respond today and in the coming weeks, months and years.
There is no telling what will happen next, but expectations of the new administration are high and the optimism is cautious. Hope and fear are a strange, yet common combination.
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, of course, there was a lot of talk about his “I Have a Dream Speech.” In recent years, black activists have drawn attention to the fact that the MLK quotes we know well are the ones that make the powers-that-be the most comfortable because they suggest unity and non-violence.
Yet MLK was more than the “I Have a Dream” speech, suits and respectability. More and more, people are sharing excerpts from his speeches and writings to help us understand the movement for civil rights, the ways activists had to pivot and what kept them going.
MLK’s dreams, words and ideas are as relevant today as the time he shared them with the world.
He said: “I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
We continue to value things (and money) more than people. We communicate our values with every action. States and people are profit-driven. Why else are countries refusing to implement more effective lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic? The economy is prioritised over public health.
The reasons aren’t as simple as they may seem. Money, yes. Elections, yes. There is also an obvious lack of interest in imagining anything better. Look at us, refusing to acknowledge that tourism isn’t what it once was and cannot carry us like it did before. Further, we can see what we value as a country with a look at the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Who do they serve and what do they protect? Which people are considered valuable? What kind of property is important to protect? We need to prioritize the protection and care of people and understand the things we own as secondary to human life.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS TO SHARE
- Eggplant parmesan. Vegetarians, this is especially for you. Meat-eaters, if you like eggplant and you like chicken parmesan, this is a must try. There are many variations of this dish, so check out different recipes and decide which one you’re willing to try. It takes some time to make a good eggplant parmesan, but it’s worth it. With garlic bread and a salad, it’s a great meal and makes for good leftovers.
- Get a jump rope. If you have been trying to be less sedentary, especially during work-from-home days, and you’re not managing to go for that run or do a full Zumba session, make it a little easier for yourself. Jump ropes are inexpensive and you can put them to use right outside your door. If you find you can’t do it for very long, work on building stamina, and remember you can practice multiple times each day. It’s also a great way to get some fresh air and sunshine.
- Set a theme for the year. At Women’s Wednesdays last week, hosted by Equality Bahamas, therapist Jessica Russell (Jessica The Therapist on Facebook and Instagram) suggested this alternative to setting resolutions. If you’ve already set resolutions or goals, it’s not too late to decide on a theme and use it as a guide to decision-making every day. In addition to providing guidance, it puts less pressure on you to “achieve” which helped to make a lot of people feel like failures in 2020 when the unexpected kept happening. A word or phrase may be just what you need to stay motivated.
- Therapy. You may not need to see a professional every week, and you may not feel like you need support, but it is a good idea to start building a relationship with a therapist. It can take some time to warm up and its best to be past the point if and when the time comes that you need help with a specific issue. Much of what we struggle with as adults is connected to childhood experiences, and we may not be able to see it for ourselves. When you start therapy early, your therapist can get to know you, stories from your past, what you believe about yourself, and what you are like when you are doing well. They are then better equipped to help you work through crisis.