Dr Safeeya Mohammed
In the intricate mosaic of our shared existence, International Men’s Day assumes a nuanced significance, casting light on the unspoken hurdles that men grapple with on their life’s journey. Beyond the strife of societal expectations, this day beckons us to explore the kaleidoscope of the male psyche with empathy and understanding.
This day serves as a reflective canvas, aptly themed for 2023, “Zero Male Suicide,” becoming a compulsory call to action! We must delve into the intricate fabric of well-being that men weave into their lives or rather deprioritise in taking care of societal demands.
The data is irrefutable
Suicide is a major health problem here in our twin island home, where we have the third highest suicide rate in the Caribbean, with one person dying by suicide every 3.5 days, or two persons per week in 2020, according to statistics provided by T&T Police Service. (See image on the next page).
“As we look at the numbers coming out of the pandemic in 2021, we must sound the alarm for young boys and men, with the youngest life lost to suicide this year being a nine-year-old boy. 89 per cent of the suicidal deaths as of September this year were boys and men, with 77 male lives lost,” said Maria O’Brien, Director, Mindwise Project
“Let’s keep in mind, suicides in Trinidad and Tobago might also be underreported, lending to the possibility that these numbers might be even higher, another reason for us to sound the alarm.”
The global disparity in suicide rates between men and women is a well-documented phenomenon, with men consistently exhibiting higher rates. This disparity is attributed to a complex interplay of many factors. By not addressing the core reasons for this, we are failing our brothers and our fathers.
Men account for 75-80 per cent of deaths by suicide.
(Data according to World Health Organization published in 2021).
* Canada: men account for three out of every four suicides. Roughly eight men take their lives every day, amounting to 3,000 deaths per year.
* UK: where nearly 12 men lose their lives to suicide every day, men die by suicide at a rate three times more often than women.
* USA: the suicide rate among males is four times higher than among females. Male deaths represent 79 per cent of suicides, amounting to roughly 105 men who die by suicide every day.
Dismantling the stigma
The theme “Zero Male Suicide” serves as a reminder to dismantle the stigma surrounding men’s mental health in this twin-island nation. From the towers of Port-of-Spain to the hills of San Fernando to the beaches of Tobago, Trinbagonian men face distinct challenges, and this International Men’s Day encourages a collective exploration of those challenges with compassion and understanding.
We must pause, we must create those spaces for non-judgmental sharing and do so with an appreciation of the silent battles that Trinbagonian men wage.
Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, past President of the T&T Association of Psychologists, had this to share with us: “The most common anxieties that are cause for concern include stressful life events such as school stress, family problems, relationship issues and financial debts.”
She states: “We must shift the cultural paradigm of silence and make it easier for boys and men to talk about how they are feeling.
“In many societies, men are taught that they need to be strong, self-sufficient, not show their emotions and worse yet, not talk about any of these things. Being fearful, depressed or anxious are signs of ‘weakness’ that isn’t compatible with being a ‘real man’. We are sold these stereotypes by the male role models in Hollywood, in sports and our local TV commercials. But many studies have linked this pattern of ‘toxic masculinity’ to many adverse effects for men,” Dr Nicholas Maraj, Consultant Neurologist, said.
How to talk about it?
Dr Maraj explained: “This is a necessary topic of discussion. Men generally do not like to appear inferior to other men. So, talking about these kinds of topics is typically taboo. Men need to be comfortable with someone to be able to talk about their mental health issues. We need to give men access to safe spaces to be able to vent their thoughts and emotions, to provide better adapted coping mechanisms and to enable better support systems.
“They need to be able to decompress without feeling judged, without feeling like less of a man, in the eyes of both men and women. We need to have more male role models (sportsmen, musicians) validating that it is ok, to NOT BE ok, that talking about it is OK and that getting support for it is OK.”
There is hope. Suicide is preventable
According to the WHO: “The foundation of prevention is to understand what puts a person at risk. Some risk factors worth noting for prevention are prior suicide attempts; substance or alcohol abuse; depression and mood disorders; social isolation; chronic disease or disability; and lack of access to behavioural health care.
Inherited trauma, stress from violence or bullying, and other factors such as the end of a relationship, death of a loved one or parent, an arrest or financial problems can increase that risk.”
Foster a compassionate culture
As we extend our hands in solidarity on International Men’s Day, let us craft a compassionate sanctuary where men can unfold their narratives without the looming spectre of judgment. Through genuine understanding and support, we collectively contribute to a world where the diverse facets of masculinity are not only acknowledged but celebrated.
May International Men’s Day 2023 serve as a tribute to their unique journey, fostering a culture where every Trinbagonian man feels seen, heard, and supported on the path to health and holistic well-being.
Things you can do to support someone who may be contemplating suicide:
● Ask– Don’t be afraid to ask if someone may be thinking about suicide. Check-in with friends, family and co-workers. Ask if you may be worried.
● Listen– Be patient and non-judgmental when persons share thoughts and feelings about their pain.
● Support–Encourage persons to seek help before they experience crisis. Ask how you can support them during their difficult time.
Things you can do if you may be contemplating suicide:
● Share– Talk with someone you trust.
● Survive– Seek the appropriate help sooner than later. Develop a safety plan
● Thrive– Practice new coping techniques to maintain a positive healthy lifestyle.
For local emergency and crisis support:
Lifeline: 800-5588/ 866-5433 TOLL FREE, 220-3636
In case of an emergency (suicide attempt) : Call: 990, 811, 999
St. Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital, St. Ann’s Road, St. Ann’s: 624-1151-5