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Govt leaders: Local incidents of suicide call for ‘high priority’ action

Education director, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga
Step one is church service to get the message out — there is help

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has requested a police report on recent incidents of suicide — which has been called a “pandemic” — while the Health Department is spearheading a territory-wide church service this coming Sunday, with the goal to get the message out that there is help in preventing teen and young adult suicide on island.

These issues came up at last Thursday’s emergency cabinet meeting when Education director, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga said that there had been a meeting of the government committee on suicide awareness the day before and she hoped that the chairman, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua, would share with cabinet members a report of the meeting and an update on suicide prevention.

“We all know there’s a problem and we need to address this problem. We need to do something,” Dr. Matagi-Tofiga said referring to suicide. “The teachers are affected, students especially.” She called the suicide issue a “pandemic” in the territory.

Based on information received by Samoa News there were at least two suicides in the previous two weeks. More disturbing is that one of the incidents was captured on a video that was posted on social media —of the victim being brought down from the tree. The video was shared many times over and the main link was later taken down, but it had already spread on the internet.

Last week Friday, DoH issued a “high priority” announcement on suicide prevention.

“You can make a difference in somebody’s life today. YOU can prevent suicide,” it says. “Stay connected, keep in touch, check with each other. Just a few minutes a day makes a difference for someone who is feeling lost, overwhelmed or disconnected. Be a friend, reach out to somebody who may be feeling alone, or isolated.”

“You are valued, you are beautiful, you are not alone. YOUR LIFE MATTERS,” the message says, noting that help is available by calling DoH hotline numbers: 220, 252-3502 or 699-6017.

At the cabinet meeting, Lolo urged cabinet members to focus on this issue.

“As much as we try not to talk about it, it’s a serious issue that we need to address,” he said, noting that he had met with the Police Commissioner, who is to submit a report on recent incidents of suicide.

The governor said he has been briefed by the police commissioner on “three occasions” that happened last week and the week before.  “So all of you who are involved in this issue — this is critical, it’s even worse than the [coronavirus] pandemic,” he said, and called on Motusa and directors involved to provide a report on what action the government should take to address this serious issue.

“Let’s get some insight,” the governor stated.

Motusa said the committee had met and later physicians from DoH visited Tafuna High School where they met with the principal and DoH is planning in time to meet with all teachers, followed by a meeting with students.

(Samoa News understands that the recent suicide incidents involved students from Tafuna High School and this information was shared by relatives of the deceased students, who asked not to be identified.)

Motusa then announced that the territory-wide church service on suicide prevention would be held on Oct 18th at 2p.m at Kanana Fou CCCAS, and the public is invited.

He said a briefing will also be provided to the cabinet and the governor and DoH will request a possible declaration of an emergency public health situation. Such a declaration would result in DoH working with other ASG agencies and non-government organizations under one-umbrella on suicide prevention.

Lolo instructed Motusa and cabinet members involved in the committee to work with Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga and “take the lead on this urgent issue.” He also instructed them to provide a solid report and recommendations on actions to be taken for a review by himself and Lemanu.