Mental stigma of suicide

Youth Champs for Mental Health advocate Regina Rakacikaci and president Lionel Rogers (right) in Suva. The group have been quite vocal on issues on mental health in the country. Picture: SUPPLIED

A MISSING button, a bruised arm, a torn uniform. There is a reason a child is silent and withdrawn.

It’s the subtle signs that give it away; no school lunches or long absences from class. John (not his real name) knows all too well the experience.

It was the rough childhood that haunted him growing up and one of the reasons he attempted to commit suicide.

The 30-year-old who is now a successful professional media person said if it wasn’t for the support of peers and loved ones, he wouldn’t be here today.

Fiji has one of the highest suicide rates in the Pacific.

Figures showed 630 young people between the ages of 11 to 25 resorted to taking their lives from January 2011 to September 2018. So far, Fiji recorded 70 suicides and 80 attempted suicides from January to September this year.

It’s a tragic case that has had experts and social workers working overtime to raise awareness on the issue.

“The number of suicides in our country says a lot about the mental wellbeing of our young people,” shared Mathew Galuvakadua a representative of the Champs 4 Mental Health.

“It’s scary to think that we have a lot of young people in our communities that have the potential of committing something like this; which means it comes back to their family and how they are raised, whether they saw their parents separate growing up. A lot of people assume often times that it comes from broken families, but it can also come from perfectly normal families. Everyone is built differently but it’s how they’re raised to cope with those differences and struggles.”

For John, he hopes his experience will give insight into the “mind of a survivor.”

“I watched my father beat my mother; we were so poor that at times Saturday’s dinner would be for lunch. I remembered when I was seven or eight; I would sleep near the fireplace because our house was so small as the size of a kitchen. There were times we had to miss meals or wear the same pair of uniforms over and over again. I can proudly say my mum is the strongest woman in the world. She never gave up on looking after us.

“I believe teachers play a vital role. When I was in school, my teachers understood what I was going through and they let me be. It was my safe haven.” But the school did not protect him from the harsh life outside. The abuse, the violence at home continued.

“When I left school there was no one to talk to. I was able to handle myself from 2005 to 2009, the first five years of work, until 2010 when alcohol became my best friend and the only thing I believed understood me. But it just made me feel helpless and hopeless. In 2011, while at university, I worked part time as a security guard. I had been assigned to work that Sunday evening but had been drinking since Friday. Mind you during my school days I did not smoke, nor consumed alcohol. But the experience of a rough childhood and a relationship choice I made in 2010 got the best of me. So on the evening of Sunday, September 2011, I decided to end it all. I had been arrested twice for drunk and disorderly that year, and feelings of failure just enveloped me. I thought life was not worth living, I felt like an embarrassment to my family, and didn’t deserve to be here; the memories of my dark childhood days haunted me. There was a choice to jump in front of an oncoming vehicle but then I thought I could survive that and if I jumped out to sea I could still survive, so the other option was hanging myself. I reached home, entered my room picked up a leather belt and just hung myself. My father was on his way to the washroom when he saw the light from my room. He saw me hanging he rushed towards me and pulled me down with all his might. Today, he still has my suicide note. He talked to me and I could remember feeling my body shaking. From that day, he makes the effort to talk to me and it has drawn us closer. I can’t blame him for my actions, people make mistakes and I’ve learnt to resolve it.”

When we consider children, there are many issues that can push someone towards depression or anxiety, says Jennifer Poole, the executive director of Medical Services Pacific (MSP).

She said a person’s mental health is the key to managing everyday pressures and if a person has depression or anxiety, it can contribute to their ability to make healthy choices.

“A person may use drugs or other substance abuse to cope, which also puts them at heightened risks of depression and or suicide.”

So what are some advice for young people out there we asked?

“We have to be there to ask them,” said Mr Galuvakadua.

“Are you thinking about killing yourself, or are you trying to kill yourself… some may think it’s too direct or confrontational but it’s not, you should ask them what’s going in their head. If they answer yes; ok what are they thinking about. So the fact, that they admitted it to you means you know it’s going on in their head. You can then help connect them with a support system they need.

“Another thing they can do — is for every young person they need to at least talk to one person if they can. If they are feeling depressed, if they feel that the world is against them — at least talk to someone they feel will take half of that burden away.”

For now, John continues with work and life. It may not be perfect but he has maintained his support network as his strong foundation.

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