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Communities on frontline of suicide-prevention efforts

Greenland suicide prevention strategy will focus on finding ways for local organisations to work closely together
Teamwork could have made a difference (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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Faced with the world’s highest suicide rate, Greenlandic officials are set to make prevention efforts a central element of their next five-year health strategy.

Suicide rates in Greenland rose rapidly in the 1980s and have remained stubbornly high. In order to deal with the problem, the Heath Ministry has followed a plan established in 2005.

The new plan, say health officials, was created with the input of a number of different groups dealing with at-risk individuals. The next step, they said, was to formulate specific proposals based on their recommendations.

“In developing the strategy we brought together people who work in different fields,” said Susanne Stilling, a Health Ministry official working with suicide prevention programmes. “Their contributions will be formulated into recommendations that schools, health clinics, local governments and anyone else dealing with suicide prevention can use.”

SEE RELATED: Efforts underway to prevent teen suicide in Greenland

Once the guidelines are in place and approved by parliament, expected to happen during its autumn session, Stilling expected that the next step would be for communities to begin offering courses about how to apply them.

Suicide prevention courses are already offered, but the new guidelines will focus on how individual communities can come up with their own method for addressing the issue.

“It is important that each community comes up with a system that works for them,” Stilling said. “People from different groups need to be able to speak with each other and we need to make prevention efforts as locally oriented as possible, so that if someone attempts or commits suicide, they can all work together so they all know what will be expected of them.”

Training, according to Stilling, would be an important part of the plan. She said educational institutions teaching trades that were likely to come into contact with an at-risk individual or someone who knew a suicide victim would be asked to make suicide prevention a part of their curriculum.

SEE RELATED: Icelandic kids among Europe’s heaviest

Statistics also show that many of those who commit suicide are family or friends of a suicide victim, and part of the Health Ministry programme will help make sure that especially young people who have lost someone to suicide can express their feelings.

Similar programmes for young people have already been introduced in Nuuk, as well as in Denmark. The programme in Nuuk is available at a just a single school and has only been going for about a year. Stilling said the Health Ministry would evaluate the programme’s results before deciding whether to offer it in other schools. So far, though, she said the experience had been positive.

“We all have tough times, but the programme teaches children how to deal with problems,” she said. “Things might not go your way all the time, but with the right help you can get over it.”