Breaking down stigmas vital to addressing suicide prevention

The Cayman Islands will acknowledge World Suicide Prevention Day with a series of academic sessions, public forums and youth events organized by the Public Health Department next week.

Events from Sept. 11 to 13 will focus on strengthening people’s mental, physical and spiritual wellness, while attempting to reduce the stigma associated with suicidal behaviors.

Minister for Health Osbourne Bodden encouraged the public to support World Suicide Prevention Day, which is officially observed on Sept. 10. This year’s theme is “Stigma: A Major Barrier to Suicide Prevention.”

“On World Suicide Prevention Day, I hope that communities across the Cayman Islands will encourage co-workers, family and friends to help promote hope and resiliency and reduce the number of persons suffering from suicidal behavior,” Mr. Bodden said.

Arline McGill, a psychiatrist with the Health Services Authority, explained that World Suicide Prevention Day helps generate public awareness and action.

“Through the three activities provided this year we seek to educate, stimulate and empower community members to become more involved in the battle against hopelessness and premature death,” she said.

The first event, titled “The Challenge of Being Happy,” begins at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 at St. Matthew’s University and will feature academic discussions on suicide prevention and overcoming chronic sadness.

On Sept. 12, a community empowerment public forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Mary Miller Hall. “Moving On” will focus on life after attempted suicide. Related discussions will also target the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The final event, on Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Family Worship Centre, is titled “The Art and Science of Happiness.”

This event will help young people to better appreciate themselves, organizers said. Topics will include how to accept and work through unresolved issues, and how to make physical, emotional and spiritual choices that will increase their happiness.

Reducing stigma

Dr. McGill explained that education, the focus of World Suicide Prevention Day, is the first step in reducing the stigma against mental health problems.

She said that the community must play a role in helping those struggling with mental health issues.

“A social ethic driven by compassion and not power will allow many currently marginalized persons to participate in and find purpose in the society,” she said, reminding the public that many academically brilliant people have struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“That does not mean they have no valuable contribution to make to a community,” she added.

According to Dr. McGill, the reluctance to discuss suicide stems from the historical treatment of people struggling with mental health issues.

“In the Caribbean, mental illness was originally thought to be only familial and so the first response would be to protect the family name and the family’s social prospects,” she said, explaining that the fear of social repercussions meant many families kept mental health issues to themselves.

“In addition, since medications were not available before the 1950s, any such problem would lead to incarceration in a lunatic asylum and no return to normal society,” Dr. McGill said.

Suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the last 40 years worldwide, according to statistics released by the World Health Organization.


WHO estimates that nearly one million people a year commit suicide. This figure does not include attempted suicides, which are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicides. The organization says most suicides can be prevented.

“There is a need to aim for what is called secondary prevention,” Dr. McGill said, explaining that people who notice a friend, relative or colleague becoming overwhelmed by stressors should be supportive.

“Encourage them to seek counseling help from one of the many therapists available,” she said. “If they lose the ability to function or the will to live, make contact with a physician or, in severe cases where there is risk of harm to self or others, the emergency services of the hospitals or the 911 service.”