Health Ministry, PAHO call for mental health awareness

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram. –

The Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have stressed the importance of prioritising mental health.

They said it is imperative that mental health awareness is promoted and that the stigma surrounding the issue is erased.

This message was conveyed at the ministry’s National Suicide Prevention Stakeholder Consultation at the Radisson Hotel, Wrightson Road, on Tuesday. The consultation was held under the theme A Closer Look at Intimate Partner Violence and Suicide in Trinidad and Tobago: Both are Preventable.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram referred to suicide in TT as a “public health issue,” saying it is vital for both the government and the public to create hope through action.

In his opening remarks, deputy permanent secretary of Gender and Child Affairs Vijay Gangapersad said, “Unfortunately, suicide rates have increased over the years and we have been discovering that attempts at suicide are also greater in number.

“The Gender and Child Affairs Division is moving to collectively aid our men, women and children who are at risk of self-inflicted and perpetrate acts of violence.”

He said victims and survivors of gender-based violence should seek aid from the National Domestic Violence Shelter on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, or 800-SAFETY, the national domestic violence hotline.

TT’s country representative at PAHO Dr Erica Wheeler said she and the rest of the organisation are looking forward to a fruitful collaboration with the ministry as they aim to tackle the ongoing epidemic that is gender-based violence and suicide.

The ministry’s Mental Health Unit released information on pamphlets that said stress is one of the leading causes of mental health deterioration, which can make someone more likely to commit violence, against either themselves or others.

The pamphlet emphasised the significance of giving prominence to self-care, saying, “Set aside some time each day just for yourself. Use it to organise your life, relax and pursue your own interests.”

It also laid out other ways to manage stress, including a healthy diet and eating habits, regular exercise and sufficient sleep.

The ministry also addressed warning signs that someone may be at immediate risk of suicide, such as drastic changes in mood, increased drug use or reckless behaviour, withdrawal from activities of interest, isolation from friends and family and more.

The ministry highlighted recommended action in order to support someone with these symptoms, saying, “Don’t be afraid to ask if someone may be thinking about suicide.”

It added it is also vital to be a patient and non-judgemental listener to those who may be in need, as well as providing the necessary encouragement and comfort.

The pamphlet went on to warn that suicidal people should express their feelings to trusted individuals and practise new coping techniques to maintain a positive and stress-free lifestyle.

In an emergency such as a suicide attempt, contact 990, 811 or 999.