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Ask, 'Are you OK?'

Lanieta Matanatabu
Friday, December 14, 2012

With the recent release of figures by Police indicating worrying increases in suicides this year, concerns were raised about the need for better expertise to understand the very high rates of suicide in Fiji compared to global patterns.

Suicide rates in Fiji range are, in some areas, as high as 3-4 times the global average. Each year in Fiji the number of people who take their own lives is higher than the road death toll. It has profound impact on community, family and individual resilience.

Given that the highest rates of suicide are amongst young educated Fijians, it also has a potential impact on the socioeconomic productivity and strength of communities and families.

Empower Pacific has been providing treatment for people who attempt suicide for the last 18 years.

"Poor social and economic conditions adversely affect mental health, and reciprocally, poor mental health undermines social and economic development.

"We cannot hope to reduce suicide rates unless we look closely at the broader social patterns of financial and personal security, cultural issues, family and community relationship patterns and a whole range of complex social issues" says CEO Rhianon Vichta.

Ms Vichta went on to explain that Empower Pacific has extensive experience and data to support the fact that counselling vastly reduces the risk of a person committing suicide.

The issue is not that the services are not available, the issue is that people are accessing them early enough to make a difference.

Ms Vichta said: "What needs to happen is that everyone in communities needs to be more active in asking their family members, friends and community members "are you OK? Can I help you get help?". People need to be more willing to talk about depression, self harm and suicide. People need to help each other to get the support that they need when they need it."

People who are showing warning signs of suicide need to be helped to get support. People who are depressed and have lost hope are not always able to reach out for help themselves.

The more that we can see saving the lives of our young people as everyone's responsibility, the more communities and individuals can act to notice and reach out to people in need.

Suicide warning signs can include : loss of interest in previous hobbies and interests, changes in relationships, withdrawal, giving away personal possessions or tidying up affairs, anger and intense frustration, abrupt changes in mood (even to being more positive sometimes), deliberately visiting or saying goodbye to loved ones, deep sadness, dangerous behaviours or having a "death wish", changes in usual patterns of sleeping or eating, expressions of hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness, lack of care of personal appearance and many other changes in normal behaviour.

If someone you know is behaving strangely or differently than usual, then its important to take the time to ask them if they are OK.

The simple act of someone showing that they care can make a difference. Helping someone get counselling can save their lives.

Empower Pacific's research over the last 18 years indicates that depression, anxiety, stress, sense of hopelessness, distress and lack of awareness of mental wellbeing are endemic issues in Fiji.

Counselling can make a difference by helping people to deal with the stresses of family conflicts, loss and grief, violence, disillusionment, fear of the future and other deep personal issues before they become debilitating to the point of illness and risk of self harm and suicide.

Research undertaken by Empower Pacific in 2012, led by Dr Henson compared suicidal clients and control group clients to determine the effectiveness of the Empower Pacific model of suicide intervention, and established that there were significant differences in the presence of warning signs between the beginning and end of counselling by Empower Pacific staff.

This is a very positive indication that the work that Empower Pacific does to prevent suicide with people who have previous made an attempt is effective.

Empower Pacific counsellors conduct one month follow up interviews with all suicidal clients and the results show unequivocally strong evidence for the efficacy of the counselling provided.

Example outcomes from 2012 include:At initial assessment, 23 per cent rated themselves as higher than a 5 out of 10 for level of current suicidal intent (18 per cent rated themselves at a 9 or 10 out of 10). At the post counselling follow up not one client (0 per cent) indicated that they still had any level of intention to attempt suicide.

At the point of assessment 32 per cent of clients rated themselves 5 or higher out of 10 for having a "sense of hopelessness", with 14 per cent rating themselves at a 9 or 10 out of 10. At post counselling follow up not one client assessed indicated that they were feeling any level of hopelessness (0 per cent)

At the point of counselling intake 34 per cent indicated that family instability was a contributing stressor.

At the post counselling follow up only 2.4 per cent indicated that they were experiencing family instability; 78.5 per cent indicated that they had experienced a significant relationship/interpersonal loss prior to their suicide attempt, whereas only five per cent indicated that they were still experiencing interpersonal relationship related issues at the one month post counselling follow up.

These results are a small selection of a range of evidence that is available to support the profound impact that Empower Pacific counselling services have in preventing further suicide attempts, and death from suicide.

During 2011 Empower Pacific attended to 156 clients who were referred after having attempted suicide.

It is vital that communities, family and friends encourage and support loved ones to access the professional support they need to move forward positively.

Empower Pacific services are free to all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, age or ability and are accessible from our Suva, Nadi, Lautoka and Labasa branch offices.

For further information please contact Ms Rhianon Vichta (chief executive officer) on 6650 482 or email

nLanieta Matanatabu is a staff of the Research Department at Empower Pacific.

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