Press Statement by the Mental Health Authority on World Mental Health Day 2019
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the press, Good morning. Once again you are welcome to this Press Briefing that launches the 2019 Mental Health Day Celebrations. It has been 25 years since the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) created a platform for people in all nations to recognise, promote and create awareness on mental health issues. Last year, the theme of the celebration was: “YOUNG PEOPLE AND MENTAL HEALTH IN A CHANGING WORLD.” This year, theme is “Suicide Prevention.”
This follows after World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September 2019 on the same theme.
The focus on suicide and its prevention by the mental health fraternity worldwide speaks volumes of mental health as a public health crisis that is manifesting through suicide. What makes the phenomenon more crucial is the fact that victims of suicide these days are mostly the youth and even more worrying, children.
It is often believed that it is only adults who exhibit suicidal behaviors, but it should be made known that many children and young people engage in this phenomenon as a result of violence, sexual abuse, bullying and cyberbullying, among others.
Suicidal behavior has existed throughout human history, but due to several complex factors, it has increased gradually in all parts of the world and, in the past few decades, has reached alarming statistical levels.
The WHO puts the figure of people who die by suicide a year at more than 800,000, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old. For a breakdown every 40 seconds, the world loses someone to suicide (so in the almost 80 seconds since I have been presenting this briefing, 2 people have taken their lives and in the next 40 seconds, another person is in the process of taking his/her life.
In Ghana our data as it stands from a study by an NGO some five years ago is 1500 deaths per annum through suicide. In one month when we tracked the calls for help against suicide, by one single line alone, we had 45 calls from people ranging from 18 to 35 years, most of them from relationship problems, socio-economic problems and pre-existing mental health challenges. Most of them, 60%, were women and 35% were students.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, there is an action to take and that is to raise awareness of the scale of suicide around the world and the role that each of us can play to help prevent it. We have a role as emergency workers, health workers, teachers, employers, people working in prisons as well as the media to help prevent suicide.
As espoused in the theme of the 2019 celebrations, suicide is a global public health problem that deserves the attention of all actors: those in the field of mental health, including scientific and professional organizations, organizations for mental health users and their families, the media and educational institutions particularly the universities. It deserves particular attention from national health authorities whose responsibility it is to craft policies and directives aimed at establishing strategies to prevent suicide and promote the public mental health.
I wish to emphasise the role of the media, print and audio visual communication media and social media as very important in preventing suicide by raising awareness on it, since your participation can have positive as well as negative effects, depending on how they address this subject.
There are numerous complex factors that contribute to a suicide, but what is most important is that all of our actions must be geared towards prevention. Accordingly, it is important that trans-sectoral and interdisciplinary action be taken by all actors.
The link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established. However, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness. That is still an acute stress reaction, a mental health crisis.
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) persons and prisoners. By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.
Getting people to talk about a subject that tends to be taboo and about which many hold mistaken and prejudiced ideas will help our Ghanaian communities learn about the risk factors so that they can identify and learn to address them.
Chair, ladies and gentlemen, the 2018 Mental Health Week celebrations presents a week of exciting and educative activities, most of these activities throughout the country. They are taking place in educational institutions like University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, at health facilities like Accra Psychiatric Hospitals and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, and in the regions and communities. Let me quickly go through some of the activities for the week.
Our usual TV quiz program “What Do-You-Know” organized by BasicNeeds live on GTV will be on 13th October;
Open day for our facilities and in units in some of our regional and district hospitals
This Press Briefing we are holding here at the Headquarters of the Mental Health Authority
Various health walks and screening to mark the celebrations
Various talks by the Psychiatric Association of Ghana and other representative bodies on various media platforms
Ladies and gentlemen, suicide is preventable and can therefore be avoided, which is why all of our efforts and public policies should focus on prevention. However, oftentimes, people who suffer from mental illness lack access to mental health services, sometimes because there are no services in their community and sometimes because they must wait months to be seen.
This is just one aspect of the subject. Over the course of the year we will be adding reports and documents that aim to provide tools not only to professionals but also to the community as a whole so that they are prepared to detect and address the issue.
We need everyone’s help, which is why we hope to receive contributions not only from the community but also from organisations made up of mental health users and their families so that we can share our experience of and knowledge about an issue as important and painful as suicide with each other.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now come to a stage in our national development and with respect to the subject matter under consideration that we need to decriminalise suicidal behaviour. Our Criminal and Offenses Act says attempted suicide is a misdemeanour. Yet as we have said, attempted suicide is often times a sign of depression or some other form of mental illness and a cry for help. We have sent a petition to the Parliament and the Attorney-General. We hereby reiterate the need to decriminalise it.
We wish you to commend all mental health workers, advocates and the media for your efforts to improve the mental health of people in Ghana and to reduce suicide.
Dr AKwasi OSei
Mental Health Authority (MHA)