Island News

What it means to be a community?

Written By : MICHAEL SMITH. Hope and Understanding was the theme for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), two words with profound meaning. Pairing them suggests two pillars that
27 Nov 2010 12:00

Written By : MICHAEL SMITH. Hope and Understanding was the theme for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), two words with profound meaning. Pairing them suggests two pillars that support our emotional health, the equivalent of food and water for our spirit.
Reversing the order of the words, and tugging on them a bit, may provide insights into the significance of this two-word message. I would maintain, for example, that understanding generates hope or, to take it further, being understood (and providing understanding) is a key to our emotional health. Understanding is meaning, and we need meaning to live.
As a Westerner and a Peace Corps volunteer with no particular claim to wisdom and certainly only a brief history in Fiji, I am going to maintain nevertheless that the experience of being understood by another person is not only profound, it can be essential to life itself.
For those struggling with their emotions due to grief, trauma, or mental illness -those who may be at the end of hope-feeling understood can be the gravity that keeps them from floating away into a world of despair. It gives life to hope which, in itself, gives life.
Between 2005 and 2009, at least 366 Fijians lost their lives to suicide. Another 539 or more tried. That’s close to 1000 of your neighbours, friends, and family. Take a map of Fiji and puncture it 1000 times with even a thumb tack and see what kind of landscape is produced. And since every suicide affects at least six people, poke your map a few hundred more times to see how shredded the fabric of your country can become.
Here in Fiji, as I am told by Fijians, this damage is not often acknowledged much less discussed. The culture tends to deny emotional pain in general. So those 366 who actually died may have trod the path to death in silence, perhaps feeling abandoned by their neighbours, friends and family.
WSPD asked us to pay attention and to be willing to offer support to those struggling with their lives, their losses, and their confusion. It asked us to remember what it means to be a community.

*Michael Smith is a Peace Corps Volunteer from North Carolina in the USA. He is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in mental health for about 35 years; and member of the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health (FAMH)



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