Four out of every five people who died by suicide jumping off bastions did so in the morning, suggesting the need for police patrols at that time of day, a conference was told on Thursday.

Senior Inspector Melvyn Camilleri believes that data could help officers prevent suicide.

Among others, statistics show that between 2003 and 2017, some 16 people had jumped off bastions, 13 of whom died between 5.45am and 9am.

He suggested the deployment of more police officers patrolling such areas during these hours.

Insp. Camilleri was addressing a conference on suicide prevention and self-harm behaviour organised by the Maltese Association of Psychiatry.

He urged officers to assist their colleagues within the force and do away with the current culture of self-sustainability, referring people at risk to other professionals for support.

In his address, he said that while fighting crime helped prevent suicide, officers could take a more leading role. The police came in touch with thousands of people on a daily basis at stations across the island.

Officers needed to be trained to recognise patterns and warning signs that indicated suicide risk or other emotional problems, and ensure that those at risk were referred to the necessary services, he said.

His call on mental health professionals to seek support was reiterated by Mental Health Commissioner John Cachia.

Dr Cachia also warned professionals that they were not immune to stress, especially considering their exposure to an environment where they had to care for other people.

He also recounted how the stigma surrounding a woman who was being treated at Mount Carmel Hospital drove her young nephew to suicide.

“A woman told a radio live audience that her son, who committed suicide a year ago, was the life and soul of his group of friends, but quite a loner at home, allowing no one to step into his bedroom."

“The caller said that her son died by suicide because an aunt, a patient at Mount Carmel, was spoken about by those who knew her in a deriding manner. This behaviour discouraged the young man from seeking support.”

Dr Cachia urged mental health professionals to look beyond data and reflect on stigma.

We need to break the silence, he reiterated, referring to “pleas” from young people to speak about suicide.

We are treating people, not psychiatric conditions, and each one of us plays a role in ending stigma and changing societal approaches to suicide, he said.

The Commissioner also called on young professionals to look into studies about suicide contemplations and attempts across acute admissions and analyse further links to depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders.

Suicide in numbers between 2003 and 2017 

313 men; 46 women

57 were non-Maltese, including 5 seaman passing through territorial waters

The youngest person to die by suicide was 14 and the oldest 98

August is the most common month for death by suicide

The aftermath of suicide

Suicide is a solitary act that impacts at least six other people, with the victim’s feelings and emotions ending up being transferred to the survivors.

Emma Micallef-Konewko noted that suicide left relatives and close friends with a lot of unanswered questions and a sense of emptiness.

Some families tended to create myths and keep secrets around the way their family member died to avoid stigma, pain, responsibility or guilt, she added.

Survivors tended to show higher feelings of blame, guilt and responsibility than other mourners. It also left them with a sense of unfinished business, as they could believe that they were responsible for the death.

She warned that if surviving family members felt guilty and responsible, they might feel undeserving of support, so they were discouraged from reaching out.

Finding meaning was often crucial in terms of recovery and making sense of the events. However, this could also be a never ending process since there was no one to answer questions.

She suggested that professionals working with suicide survivors should not be afraid to ask the survivors how they were coping and to have difficult conversations with the family - similar to a “psychological autopsy”.

"We all have skills, but the most important thing is not to forget to be human," she added.

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