When you think of the Caribbean, you often think of sunny days and sandy beaches. Bermuda has both of those in abundance and people love to talk about those things. What most people don’t like to talk about is suicide. This is true around the world, and while some areas are making gains on reducing stigma, a small population of just over 63,000 inhabitants presents special challenges.
“It’s the dynamic of being in a small community. It helps us and then it hurts us,” notes Tawanna Wedderburn. She recently opened a private counselling practice called Transcendence in the capital city Hamilton and notes how you deal with mental health is different where few people are strangers.
“As a result, people know what’s going on in each other’s lives. Because of that, they go through great lengths to hide what’s happening,” says Wedderburn. But she’s on a mission to change that.
While studying and working in Canada she met another woman of Caribbean descent and learned about LivingWorks programs. This connection from years ago planted a seed that is now blossoming on the island. In the fall of 2019, LivingWorks Trainer and Community Development Specialist Karen Grant-Simba travelled to the region several times to train Bermudians in suicide awareness and prevention.
While a hurricane did its best to prevent the first set of trainings last September, the women put on LivingWorks safeTALK and LivingWorks ASIST trainings that were so successful, word of mouth created demand for a second set of ASIST trainings in December. This time the weather behaved and something else nice happened.
“Someone made an anonymous donation so there was a private donor and the workshop was attended by a variety of helpers in the community which was really beautiful and great for community building,” says Grant-Simba.
Although Grant-Simba has roots in the Caribbean, she appreciated the extra time Wedderburn took with her before and during the sessions to give her more context on the very private nature of Bermudians when it comes to mental health challenges. One challenge faced in Bermuda is the tension between protecting confidentiality and being transparent about suicide rates.
“The data for the number of suicides in Bermuda for 2018 and 2019 has not been released,” Wedderburn notes. “In fact, that information about the number of suicides in Bermuda is not usually released on an annual basis. It’s usually released in an aggregate basis over a number of years. That is because we are so small that if we were to say that there were two suicides this year for example, then we run the risk of the community knowing exactly who the two are… because we’re so small. So the issue becomes how we strike a balance between the confidentiality of the persons who suicided and their families, and the importance of knowing the information in the community so that we can track the prevalence of the problem and implement solutions to reduce suicide.”
Cultural change is never fast but Wedderburn is noticing some positive changes in her island when it comes to talking more openly about suicide. “Suicide is being talked about more freely than it would have five or 10 years ago—it’s a huge change. In addition, families of persons who have suicided are establishing support groups and events to commemorate their loved ones.”
The next set of LivingWorks trainings were expected to happen on the island in spring 2020, although this is delayed due to COVID-19. For more information on trainings in Bermuda, you can reach out to Wedderburn at [email protected]