Preventing Suicide among young people – a need for concerted and coordinated effort among stakeholders
The scary global estimates (from the World Health Organization,) that “somebody dies by suicide every 40 seconds” makes it imperative for all, to support efforts at addressing this public health concern. The good news is, prevention is achievable through timely evidence-based intervention.
Ghana joined the globe to mark Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September on the theme “A renewed worldwide commitment to prevent suicides: Creating Hope through Action”.
The commemoration, and the declaration of September as Suicide Prevention month, aim to create awareness about suicide, its risk factors and the proactive ways to reduce the incidence, stigma around it, and to provide support. Ghana’s situation demands an all hands on deck approach, beyond advocacy by a few NGO’s. Our laws and Mental Health system must be responsive and equipped to fight the issue because our stress levels in this country are high.
Suicide among young people
Experts say, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children, adolescents, and young adults age 15-to-24-year-olds. They maintain that, majority of children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually depression.
Admittedly, the teen years are stressful because of the rapid developmental changes in the body, mind and emotions. These strong feelings of stress, fear, confusion and anxiety have a way of impacting the teen’s performance and sense of self-worth. While some adolescents can manage the transition, the developmental process can be very challenging and unsettling for others. For some adolescents, the stage of development combined with factors like problems at home-including divorce, financial issues, sibling rivalry, moving towns, changes in friends, problems in school, body shaming and other losses are risk factors that push them to think suicide is the solution to end all the problems. Other risk factors include a family history of suicide attempts, exposure to violence, aggressive or disruptive behavior, bullying, access to firearms and drug, as well as the inability to cope with pressure from peers.
Suicide in Ghana
The Ghanaian situation is alarming! According to the Ghana Mental Health Authority, there were 797 recorded cases in 2018, the figure shot up to 880 in 2019 and slightly dropped to 777 in 2020, but shot up to an alarming 902 cases in 2021. Sadly, these are only reported cases; several other cases are not reported for fear of stigma. The Ghana Mental Health Authority is gravely concerned about this worrying situation, and has made a clarion call for organizations and institutions to step up advocacy and institute measures to curb the growing trend. It is also crucial that we all join the advocacy to decriminalise suicide because the punitive law does not help solve the problem.
Suicide is a desperate cry for help!
Since depression, stress and anxiety are risk factors for suicide, we can conclude from the human behavioural perspective that suicide is a desperate cry for help! It could be a point of hopeless despair of inability to handle challenges or changes that are perceived to be death sentences, rather than stepping stones or opportunities for development.
Particularly for adolescents and young adults who are confronted with somewhat harsh changes compounded by the fast transient world system of information and individualistic lifestyle, we can only support them with the requisite information to make informed choices. To these, suicide may only be an expression of that inner desperate cry for help navigate the transition.
Need for a community of support
That’s why parents, teachers, counsellors and psychologists must build their capacity to provide mental, emotional and spiritual support for teens so that the teens can also build their own independent coping and problem solving skills. Organizations and communities should also provide safe spaces and platforms of support networks first, to handle the challenges associated with adolescence and then to deal with suicidal tendencies. These groups and platforms can help provide a caring environment where adolescents can safely and confidently talk about their problems with people who share their concerns.
This is especially for teens and young adults facing issues of low self-esteem, bullying, domestic violence and abuse, body image issues, living with an alcoholic family member or sexuality and sexual health concerns. This is where the role of Discovery Teen Magazine and Foundation is crucial.
Discovery Teen Magazine & Foundation
Discovery Teen Magazine & Foundation is a not-for-profit organization, committed to mentoring and empowering adolescents to make informed choices. The Foundation educates adolescents and young adults about the changes and challenges associated with their stage of development, the likely implications and how to navigate the transition. It also highlights adolescent challenges and helps parents, teachers and policy makers to provide the appropriate support for the transition.
The Discovery Teen Chats and Discovery Dialogues are safe spaces and platforms where adolescents and parents interact and discuss the peculiar challenges adolescent face in order to provide appropriate solutions for them. WE continue to receive positive feedback on the impact.
What Are the Warning Signs of Suicide?
When a teen commits suicide, many people are affected, including family, friends, their school, and the entire community. While the reasons behind an attempted suicide or suicide can be complex or shocking, there are warning signs which can help us pick hints once we pay attention.
Children and adolescents thinking about suicide may openly express their intentions through statements or comments like “I wish I was dead,” or “Very soon, I won’t be a problem or burden for anyone.” They may also engage in activities such as songs, books, music, drawings or painting and films about death. Other warning signs associated with suicide can include:
• talking about suicide or death in general
• withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
• suddenly develop interest in activities and things that make them be alone
• become very secretive
• talking about “going away”
• referring to things they “won’t be needing,” and giving away possessions
• talking about feeling hopeless or guilty
• having no desire to take part in favorite things or activities
• trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
• changes in eating or sleeping habits
• self-destructive behaviors (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or cutting themselves
• frequent or pervasive sadness, frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
• decline in the quality of school work
Seeking professional help
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. Affected adolescents need to have their illness recognized and diagnosed, and appropriately treated by professionals. People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking your child or adolescent whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:
• Are you feeling sad or depressed?
• Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
• Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?
Temporary helplines provided by the Ghana Mental Health Authority
The Ghana Mental Health Authority must be commended for the provision of temporary helplines across the country, manned by trained personnel. This is a great boost to addressing the issue because the first step to addressing suicidal behaviours is the need for availability support systems.
We also applaud the advocacy efforts of the Authority in pushing for the decriminalising suicide attempts in the Ghanaian laws. We applaud the efforts that have resulted in the private member’s bill seeking to repeal the law criminalising attempted suicide from our criminal code.
055-538-3056 – Ashanti
020-922-8954 – Brong and Ahafo
024-425-5594 – Central
024-401-4348 – Eastern
024-424-9928 – Greater Accra
024-450-8838 -Northern, North-East, Savanna
024-395-0520 – Upper West
020-630-4788 – Upper East
024-267-1862 – Volta, Oti
024-489-0018 – Western, Western North
We can only provide solutions to issues concerning our adolescents and young adults when we hold objective discussions and address them through a concerted and collaborative efforts. That is why parents, teachers, religious and traditional leaders and other stakeholders must be part of the advocacy to prevent suicide at all levels in or society.
Finally to anybody, especially young person experiencing any life changing situation that makes you feel hopeless and think you want to take your life, suicide is not the solution. There is help, just call for help. Your life counts and there is more to live for!
The writer is Communication Specialist and Gender Advocate. Founder, Discovery Teen Magazine and Foundation