Suicide attempts climbing in Cayman

Cayman is seeing growing numbers of people attempting suicide and suffering depression than ever before, according to medical professionals.

‘There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t have several admissions to this hospital for suicide attempts or parasuicidal type gestures’, said Dr. Marc Lockhart, who works at the Cayman Islands Mental Health Department at George Town Hospital.

There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from severe depression and substance abuse, he said.

While the full force of the ‘econocide’ trend, where people are taking their own live due to economic stress, is not yet being felt in Cayman, financial woes are pushing people to the brink.

Dr. Lockhart said there are cases of suicides in Cayman and while the numbers are low compared to global rates, increased financial stressors played a key role in exasperating and complicating mental health and psychiatric-type issues, causing a spike in the number of people attempting to kill themselves.

Globally, statistics show that mental health disorders, particularly depression, account for more than 90 per cent of all cases of suicide. According to Dr. Lockhart, the picture is just as bleak in Cayman.

‘In our setting, that probably accounts for about 90 per cent of suicidal-type behaviours or gestures that are non-completed,’ said Lockhart.

He added, ‘When we do an assessment, we see that alcohol and other substances have played a significant role on the mood, the thought process, and the decision-making process many times on patients that do attempt or try to commit suicide.’

Who is at risk?

The picture gets even darker when discussing who is impacted the most. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44.

Suicide among young people is increasing at such a rate that they are now the group at the highest risk in a third of countries.

In Cayman, there has been a significant increase in the number of 15 to 18 year olds suffering from depression and entertaining suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Lockhart said the global economic crises as well as the rise in crime are two major factors creating a sense of hopeless among young people.

Challenges ahead

Dr. Lockhart’s comments were made at a forum leading up to World Mental Health Day where he also outlined the challenges the economic downturn has placed on the medical industry as whole.

There is also a growing number of mentally ill patients requiring longer term care.

According to Dr. Lockhart, patients exhibiting significant, severe psychiatric features were involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Law for a total of 326 days from November 2007 to November 2008. That number has jumped to 736 days from November 2008 to May of 2009.

The increase in the number people requiring long-term care has placed additional burden on the limited resources available on the Islands.

Over the years, plans to build a mental health institution in Grand Cayman have fallen through the cracks and in the midst of the current budget crises, money for the facility isn’t even on the books.

Because of budget restraints, medical workers are dealing with the same inadequate facility. The current inpatient unit at the hospital can only hold eight patients, and a skeleton crew of staff is left to deal with the growing number of patients requiring more services.

The other challenge facing local mental health workers is it is virtually impossible to know just how severe mental illness is or far reaching it is because there are very few statistics documenting cases.

Solutions

A national statistics institution or agency where public and private health care statistics would be in one location is a must, according to Dr. Lockhart.

He says the proper documentation will give medical workers a clearer idea of what the big problems are and where they need to focus their efforts.

He’s also applauding Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush’s commitment to form a mental health task force saying it’s something needed and warranted at this time.

Dr. Lockhart also doesn’t believe Government should be solely responsible for improving the state of mental health facilities on the Island. Instead he believes the industry would be better helped if a partnership was formed with the private sector where the two worked together to help create more jobs, and making it easier to bring in mental health specialists.

Dr. Lockhart says it’s imperative that they revitalise their commitment to public health and redefine the scope of mental health prioritising resources in the appropriate manner so general practitioners, counsellors, psychiatrists are all working together.

Changing views

Dr. Lockhart admits none of the solutions he’s offered will matter unless people change the way they view and think of mental health and the mentally ill.

He said to really make a difference there has to be a dedicated effort toward decreasing the stigma surrounding the schizophrenia, depression and other mental illnesses, breaking down the barriers, and increasing public awareness and education about the diseases, the help available, and the signs to look for so friends and families can recognise when a friend or loved one is in trouble.

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