A multi-sectoral response to save lives from suicide has picked pace since the launch of the time bound action plan
Health: At almost two calls a month, the crisis helpline established at the Health Help Centre has attended to 21 calls from people seeking help on suicide prevention in the last 11 months.
The crisis helpline is among the several activities that have been implemented after the Cabinet endorsed the Suicide Prevention Action Plan in May this year.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay officially launched the three-year plan that has six objectives and 56 actions yesterday during the first National Suicide Prevention Steering Committee meeting at the health ministry.
Although prank calls still remain an issue, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the HHC’s toll free hotline 112 has expanded its phone lines to establish the crisis helpline and facilitate people to seek medical advise.
Deputy Chief Program officer with the department of public health, Dr Gampo Dorji while presenting the status of the action plan said the HHC staff have already been trained to provide crisis support.
“The advice provided through the crisis helpline has helped saved all 21 lives and few also visited the HHC to thank them,” he said. Of the 21 callers between 15- 42 years, seven are males.
Dr Gampo Dorji shared with the members that suicide prevention is now included as an indicator in the heath ministry’s and the local government’s Annual Performance Agreements (APA).
Besides orienting district health officers across the country on suicide prevention roles, the National Suicide Prevention Program (NSPP) secretariat at the health ministry and Royal Bhutan Police have also developed a National Suicide Registry to improve record keeping.
The registry is in its final phase and is currently being tested in Samtse, Bajothang in Wangdue and Chukha, Dr Gampo Dorji said.
Bhutan may be leading globally by being among the top 30 countries to have such an action plan in place but its suicide death rate is not far behind.
Dr Gampo Dorji pointed out that the country’s suicide death rate in 2013 of 14 per 100,000 population is higher than the global average of nine to ten deaths.
Records with police show that a total of 314 suicide cases including 54 attempted suicides were reported until this year since 2013. Of the total, 92 were below 24 years.
Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, who is the chairperson of the committee, said the government is concerned over the increasing number of suicide cases particularly among the youth. “In Bhutan, suicide death ranks among the top six leading causes of death after alcoholic liver disease and other NCDs,” he said.
He said members of the steering committee were carefully selected considering the relevance and leadership role they can play in prevention of suicide in the country.
“Given the importance of the public health issues and responsibilities bestowed upon us as members, it is our role to provide leadership, guidance, advise and thrust to the multi-sectoral response in national suicide prevention in the country.”
One of the institutional arrangements to effectively implement comprehensive suicide prevention plans is to set up forensic units in all the regional referral hospitals.
Dr Gampo Dorji highlighted the concern of misclassification of suicide as homicide given the lack of training among health personnel who attend such cases. He said the current practice in handling attempted suicide cases treated the bruise only but not the causes behind the act.
Setting up a standard protocol to improve care for individuals who attempt suicide or inflict self-harm will be one of the actions taken along with reducing access to means of suicide such a pesticide regulation.
To improve community resilience and societal support for suicide prevention in communities including schools and institutions, the action plan makes it mandatory for schools and institutions to orient teachers on mental health issues and suicides.
During Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck’s recent visit to schools, Dr Gampo Droji said that suicide was the main topic students wanted to talk about.
The committee members were also informed that the dratshang and health ministry would pilot Buddhist approaches and modern psychotherapeutic techniques in counseling alcoholic and addiction problems in JDWNRH psychiatric unit, and Trashigang hospital.
Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay assured the government’s support to the committee members in implementing the action plan. “Suicide is a concern and for a country of 700,000 people, even one life lost is one too many.”