Bridgetown, Barbados, 1 September 2023 (PAHO/WHO) - Media practitioners, communication persons and representatives from the Ministry of Health and the mental health team in Barbados, recently participated in a workshop geared towards building capacity to report on suicide in a responsible way, and to gain consensus on draft ethical guidelines on suicide reporting.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness organized the workshop following cases of suicide which recently occurred in Barbados. It was the opportune time to work towards creating public awareness in partnership with the media. This formed part of the Ministry’s thrust to strengthen the overall mental health programme in the country.
The workshop objectives were to:
- Learn about the development and use of the best practices for safe and effective messaging.
- Learn how to incorporate research proven strategies to reduce the risk of suicide contagion.
- Learn effective ways to utilize images, family members, witnesses, and experts in suicide reporting.
- Have increased knowledge of reporting on suicide from a public health perspective.
- Adopt the ethical guidelines and M&E framework on responsible media reporting of suicide.
Participants included media editors, representatives from the Government Information Service, communication officers from the Ministries of Health, PAHO, health promotion officers, senior officials from the psychiatric hospital, senior consultant psychiatrist, and the chief medical officer.
Dr. Taraleen Malcolm, PAHO Advisor Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, gave greetings on behalf of the PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, Dr. Amalia Del Riego.
“The World Health Organization has listed suicide as a major cause of premature death with more than 700,000 people taking their own life each year. This is after many attempts corresponding to one in every 40 seconds.”
“Suicide is the third highest leading cause of death among young people aged 20 to 24, in the region of the Americas, and people aged 45 to 59 have the highest suicide rates in the region, followed by those aged 70 and older. So, tackling the complexity of suicidal behaviour starts with identifying the risk and protective factors. And this is why PAHO is pleased to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and Wellness in hosting this workshop on responsible reporting on suicide.”
In his remarks, Dr. Kenneth George, Chief Medical Officer said, “Although the suicide rates in Barbados is well below the estimated global averages, it is critical that we address this phenomenon head-on as we try to place the appropriate health systems in place for comprehensive mental health reform.”
Dr. George reported that the Mental Health Commission has identified for immediate attention, the development of a mental health policy for Barbados; review and upgrade to the regulatory and legislative frameworks guiding mental health; expansion of community-based mental health services; expansion of services targeting vulnerable populations; public education and support and engagement of allied agencies in the overall work of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
He also informed that the Ministry is in the process of establishing a mental health and suicide hotline, that based international evidence and guidelines will add to the national response and allow for immediate interventions for assistance and follow-up.
Dr. Malcom presented on the global and regional context of suicide, discussed effective suicide prevention interventions, and provided and overview on PAHO suicide prevention initiatives.
Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Brian MacLachlan presented on suicide in Barbados. He informed that not a lot of research has been done in Barbados regarding suicide, noting the recent societal and clinical concerns about an increase in apparent suicides.
He said that historically, Barbados has had a low rate of suicide as compared to its Caribbean neighbors and the rest of the world; there is ongoing attention being paid in examining the possible cause of this increase in presumed suicides; increases in countrywide anxiety and depression which is secondary to the effects of COVID-19, and the socioeconomic challenges that perhaps have arisen may be an important factor.
Mrs. Jessie Schutt-Aine, Unit Chief for Equity, Gender Human Rights and Cultural Diversity at PAHO headquarters presented on the importance of gender diversity and inclusiveness in our approach to deal with developing suicide, prevention, strategy, and implementing these strategies. She commended the partnership with the media to address the issue.
An important takeaway from her presentation was the need to have different strategies to reach different target groups. For example, the approach that might work for women might not necessarily work for men.
The workshop trainer was Dr. Dan Reidenberg, currently a consultant for SAVE (Suicide, Awareness, Voices of Education), a national non-profit agency working to prevent suicide and help suicide survivors, and those suffering with depression. He is a managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention, the former US. Representative to the International Association of Suicide Prevention, and currently a special advisor to the Board.
Dr. Reidenberg outlined the media’s role in preventing suicide and best practices for reporting on suicide. He informed that the media and communications in general have a critical role in suicide prevention and that there is evidence to establish that communicators make a difference.
It was a very interactive session where many case studies on suicide reporting were reviewed from the international and Caribbean media. Media ethics and the guiding principles of reporting were some of the topics covered.
The session ended with defined areas to be included in local media guidelines. The process to define these guidelines and build consensus among the stakeholders will be led by the Barbados Government Information Service (GIS).