By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
POLICE Commissioner Paul Rolle last night apologised for his comments about suicide victims, but claimed his remarks were sparked by questions from “pushy journalists”.
At a press conference on Monday, Commissioner Rolle said some of last year’s suicides were committed by “weak” men who killed themselves because they were having problems with their partners. His remarks triggered outrage from people on social media, especially those who have worked for years with people struggling with mental illness.
Suicides increased by 38 percent last year. On Monday, Commissioner Rolle also said there was no evidence to suggest that 2020’s lockdowns were to blame for increased suicides.
When contacted about the immense backlash to his remarks, he told The Tribune: “I was explaining that we did not do a scientific research on the cause and that really is not my specialty.
“I couldn’t say what was the cause, I couldn’t say COVID was the cause because the year prior, if you add the attempted suicide incidents, although in 2020 there were more suicides overall, there were more suicide attempts in 2019 than there were in 2020. The sum total of attempted and actual suicides were higher in 2019, so without scientific research I was unable to say that COVID was the cause.
“What I do know is that there were about three cases which we identified as domestic-related based on info we got from their friends or their family. (The press) asked me, why is that and I said ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just that you have weak men.’ That’s the context in which I said it. I apologise to those families and it was not intended to be that way. This is what happens when you have pushy journalists who refuse to accept the explanation given. I issue my apology for those comments to those families, it was in no way intended to cast aspersions on them.
“I spoke with Dr (Wendy Fernander) this morning. She contacted me and expressed her concern with it. I took what she said and so you have where we at now. She’s the chairperson of the Bahamas Psychological Association. I took the comment. I took my spanking and we move on.”
Earlier yesterday, local psychologist Christopher Huyler Roberts branded the comments “distasteful”.
“These comments by the COP are unfortunate and distasteful,” Mr Roberts said. “He is unqualified to make such assumptions and should apologise to the families.
“To equate mental illness or emotional distress to being weak is to downplay the seriousness of these issues and to make such a statement, as the senior law enforcer in the country, shows just how unlearned and insensitive he is to such matters.
“I am highly offended and disappointed.”
Meanwhile consultant psychiatrist Dr John Dillet said the police chief’s comment appeared to be insensitive to those with mental health issues. He also said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on many Bahamians, while there has also been a rise in the number of mental health conditions around the world due to the situation.
Given the circumstances, he said leaders have an obligation to set a supportive tone.
“I want to start by saying that I believe the commissioner’s heart is in the right place and his wish is to enhance the safety and well being of the citizens of the Bahamas. So, I acknowledge the difficulty of it,” Dr Dillet told The Tribune yesterday. “I do believe, though, that leaders have a responsibility to set a supportive tone when it comes to mental health and the plight of many individuals struggling with mental health conditions.
“The comment did appear in some ways to be insensitive to the needs and the plight of individuals with medical conditions.
“I would encourage the commissioner to reach out to mental health professionals if he has any concerns or questions. I can say unequivocally that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of many of our citizens.
“We’ve seen a rise in the number of mental health conditions and it’s been proven by research in the world that persons who are already under enormous amounts of stress in our communities because of day-to-day responsibilities have seen an increase in those stresses as a result of COVID-19 because of many issues such as lack of access to healthcare, lack of financial resources, because of the pandemic and the strain it’s placed on the economy (and) the added stress of being on confinement and being isolated have all increased the amount of stress in our society. So, certainly it is something that we have to deal with and something that is real to people in terms of what they’re going through.”
Dr Dillet continued: “I would encourage and I’ve always had a good working relationship with people in law enforcement - I think mental health issues affect almost every family in the Bahamas, our loved ones, our brothers, our sisters, our children, our grandparents, our colleagues, our friends. We all know someone probably with a mental health disorder and have struggled with it.
“I would encourage leaders to set a supportive tone in these public statements or public press conferences to remind individuals that we should reduce the stigma and stereotype of individuals that may have mental health problems that there are resources available to assist.
“I would like to say this: anyone under the right set of circumstances can be depressed or even feel suicidal if we feel overwhelmed with life’s problems. Anyone of us no matter how strong we think we might be the right set of circumstances will push all of us to the breaking point.”
Dr Dillet said resources are available at the Community Counseling Assessment Centre on Collins Ave, the Crisis Centre, as well as the psychiatric clinic at some of the outpatient clinics such as Fleming Street Clinic.
There were 11 suicides in 2020, compared with eight recorded in 2019.
There were also 45 attempted suicides last year, a 20 percent reduction from the 56 attempted suicides in 2019, according to RBPF data.