Saving the most vulnerable in our community

There were four deaths at the weekend according to the Ministry of Police and Prisons. 

Acting Police Commissioner Papali’i Monalisa Tiai-Keti told the Samoa Observer that out of the four deaths, three of them were allegedly self-inflicted and the cases have been referred to the coroner for further investigation.

The coroner is empowered by the law to undertake an inquiry into the cause as well as the circumstances behind a person’s death.

A death is a loss to a loved one, to a family and to the community so to have four deaths in the country on the same weekend is a tragedy for multiple families.

The fact that three out of those four deaths are allegedly self-inflicted or self-harm is a cause for concern and should immediately raise red flags. 

Questions should be asked on whether we are doing enough for the most vulnerable members of our community and if the support systems currently in place to prevent self-harm are adequate.

Eighteen months on after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of Samoa’s international borders and the collapse of the country’s tourism sector, thousands have become unemployed and forced to return to their villages and families.

The cost of living continues to rise as the pandemic drags on with the cost of basic items beyond the budgets of ordinary citizens, posing challenges for individuals and families who don’t have a continuous flow of income.

To put this in perspective a month after the pandemic-related state of emergency (S.O.E.) went into effect in March last year, there were already reports of families going hungry due to one parent being out of a job.

In August 2020, some five months after the SOE was announced by the authorities, a United Nations survey found that over two-thirds of Samoans report losing income and having difficulties paying their debts due to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So could the effects of the pandemic in Samoa be exacerbating a mental health crisis amongst the most vulnerable in the community?

There is no doubt the pandemic will gradually take its toll on the people’s mental health, questions need to be asked on whether there are support services offered by the Mental Health Services Unit within the Ministry of Health to the most vulnerable members of the community.

Further investment in the M.O.H. Mental Health Services Unit – through increased funding for advocacy and awareness programs on mental health issues as well as boosting staffing levels to enable more accessibility for communities outside Apia – would be a step in the right direction.

While not forgetting the tireless efforts of the local non-government organisation Fa’ataua Le Ola which has been providing a lifeline over the years to the most vulnerable in the community.

In these times of uncertainty prolonged by the pandemic with authorities unsure when reopening the borders would become viable for Samoa’s economy, policy moves by the new Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government to promote mental health would go a long way in removing the stigma often associated with the disorder.

And in the process save the lives of citizens facing various challenges in these difficult times.

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