Suicide, Mental Health Discussed at PGMA Panel Seminar

Community News







More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a major public health issues as every 16 minutes someone commits suicide and 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide is a problem, not a solution, says Dr. Adeyinka Laiyemo, gastroenterologist from Howard University. Suicide is the deliberate act of taking someone’s life. It is a major public health issue. In the US, every 16 minutes somebody commits suicide. It is the 10th leading cause of death. It is a national problem, and not restricted to any state, age, gender, or religion.

To address this issue Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) Youth arranged a symposium of doctors, mental health and social workers. It was well attended, with both sections of the room filled. Dr Ahmad Azzari, Ameedah Rashid, and Najwa Awad joined Dr Laiyemo.

Ehab Hassan who introduced the panel said these issues are present in youth but have been unaddressed, rarely discussed, or ignored. The Muslims think they are immune to society, or act that way, but we are not. “We need to learn about these issues, prepare for them, and tackle them,” he said.

In 2010, approximately 40,000 deaths occurred due to suicide, and in 2011, about 500,000 were treated for attempting suicide. Of the suicides committed, 51 percent use firearms, 17 percent overdosed on drugs, and others use cutting, assistance from physicians, etc.

Dr. Abiola Adelaja, a forensic psychiatrist says that 60 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder commit suicide and 90 percent of people who commit suicide are diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Elderly, teens and even middle aged people commit suicide.

Traditionally, risk assessment is focused on prediction: for example, in forensic psychiatry the psychiatrist predicts whether a patient is dangerous and therefore at risk of committing a violent act. Static risk factors are historical and fixed such as past attempts, physical and sexual abuse, or family history of suicide.

Dynamic risk factors are present for an uncertain length of time. They may fluctuate markedly in both duration and intensity: for example where a patient has acute anxiety symptoms. In the short term, a single event may trigger dramatic changes to a number of risk factors, thus multiplying the overall risk. Dynamic current factors include mood disorders, depression, schizophrenia, drugs, alcohol, impulsivity, unemployment, single, widowed/divorced, illness, living alone, severe anxiety, social stresses, acute psychosis, family discord, breakup, and separation.

Some other risks are if the person has a prolonged or calculated plan of killing oneself, exhibits farewell behavior, gives away belongings, makes a will, or has access to lethal means (weapons, noose, poison).

Some prevention strategies suggested by Dr. Adelaja were education, restriction of access to lethal means and decreased media coverage, which glamorizes suicide as people tend to copy idols.

According to Dr Azzaari, imam of PGMA who gave the Islamic perspective, suicide has been practiced since the time of the Holy Prophet, and is not a Western introduction. The Islamic fiqh definition is "intentional ending of one's life by one's own hands or by the help of others." “It is a frank violation and aggression against Allah, because you took away what He entrusted you with,” he said. Allah offered life as an amanah to the human being, he accepted it, and so he must honor it.  He gave the example of a patient refusing treatment is against amanah— it is a must on every male and female to seek treatment.

According to the interpretation of a hadith the imam related from the Sahihayn, “In the nations before you, a man had a wound, it bothered him so much, he cut off his hand and bled until he died. Allah says, My servant hastened himself to Me."

The imam relayed another narration when a man died in war, when the sahaba related this to the Prophet, he sallahu alayhi wa sallam, said he will be in hellfire. His wounds were hurting so much, that he cut his life short with a sword. In essence, Islam prohibits feelings of helplessness and hopelessness from the mercy of Allah.

Punishment for suicide is the hellfire by doing that same act repeatedly until the Day of Judgment. As far as suicide bombings go, all scholars say it is absolutely haram, said Dr Azzari.

Najwa Awad, a clinical social worker with a practice in Howard County asked the audience what does a suicidal person look like? There are many warning signs including changes in mood, sleep habits, and hygiene. Family and friends can dialogue with the person contemplating suicide and do something about it.  She noted that cutting is a sign of depression as it relieves stress and the person may not always be suicidal.

Teens tend to get violent, act out, run away risking isolation from family and friends, irritability increases and grades and appearance often suffer. There are spikes in alcohol and drug use. Adult display different symptoms, such as depression, staying in bed, decrease in obligations and partake in alcohol or prescription overuse.

Ameedah Rashid, a Licensed Social Worker in Maryland and the District of Columbia, and a Clinically Certified Juvenile Treatment Specialist spoke about how the Muslim community can respond to suicide. One of her key points was to keep connected with other individuals and to destigmatize mental health issues.

The experts emphasized that it was imperative that friends inform parents from a health and Islamic point of view. If a person thinks a friend and family member is about commit suicide should call 911 and let the police take the person to a hospital to seek help. Being a good friend and listening can help someone who is teetering on the edge. It is best to seek help from professional counselors. Guilt tripping a person is not the way to go, neither is lashing out in anger.

Awad gave information about mobile crisis unit, which is available in all counties, which will send clinicians out to people in imminent risk.

Umme Maryam, who attended the event, says that it was a very informative and eye-opening seminar. “We learnt a lot about mental health issues that we were not aware of, especially how important it is for the community to reach out to people who are going through a troubled phase in their lives— people seriously need help.”