x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Attempted suicide should be treated

Attempting suicide once is alarming enough. But attempted suicide seven times - by a 17-year-old teenager no less - is a cry for help that society cannot ignore.

Attempting suicide once is alarming enough. But attempted suicide seven times - by a 17-year-old teenager no less - is a cry for help that society cannot ignore.

Unfortunately, as we report today, UAE law makes it difficult for those contemplating suicide to seek counselling. As taking one's own life is considered a crime under Sharia, health professionals say that many of their patients live with the fear that they will be reported to authorities if they come forward.

There is a growing understanding that suicidal thoughts need to be treated medically. Attempted suicide is often a depressed person's way of telling the world how they feel. Often there are underlying problem such as stress, depression, abuse or family problems that need to be addressed.

Teenagers in particular are one of the most vulnerable sectors of society. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide last year was the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24. Such a startling statistic is cause enough for any country to pay attention to the psychological health of its youth.

More worrying, there is little data to gauge how large the problem is in the UAE. While a report released last year by the American Centre for Psychology and Neurology stated that more than one million suicides occurred internationally last year, few statistics describe the state of affairs in the Middle East, let alone our nation.

"Here, committing suicide is taboo," said Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, a consultant psychiatrist from the American centre. "We only know about the people who come to our door. What about the people who don't?"

Greater awareness that problems do exist can help to combat this societal ill. A month-long Protect Childhood Campaign launched by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children in January successfully raised awareness about the issue of child abuse throughout the emirate.

The aim was not only to raise awareness that such a problem exists, but to encourage victims to come forward and cast off the stigma that normally keeps such cases behind closed doors.

But while a public campaign may tackle the social taboos that surround suicide, decriminalisation will ultimately yield the best effects for those in need of help. People who are in distress need to be able to seek counselling - that is the only way to stem the tragedy.