Muscat: Faith can’t protect patients with mental illness from committing suicide, a recent study by Omani psychiatrists said.
“Despite having a strong religious affiliation, patients with mental illness can become helpless and hopeless, and try to end their lives,” said Dr Munthir Al Maqbali, psychiatry resident at Al Masarrat Hospital.
The study, which targeted religiously affiliated patients who took their own lives, reported that a person’s level of faith is, indeed, a protective factor from the idea of committing suicide, but it does not actually prevent suicides.
“Some religious people refuse to seek professional medical assistance, as they think their faith will eventually help them to overcome depression, even in severe cases,” Al Maqbali explained.
“Mental illness is like any other organic disease, people should talk about it without fearing to be labelled or stigmatised,” Dr Hamad Sinawi, senior consultant of old age psychiatry, said. Depressive illness, insomnia, and social stress can trigger a person to attempt suicide, despite knowing the consequences of the action from a religious point of view.
“Mental health professionals should perform detailed risk assessments in patients with depression, regardless of their religious beliefs,” the study recommended.
More than 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Oman, suicide rates are slightly lower than the global rate, but seven to ten per cent of the public exhibit symptoms of depression, according to Al Maqbali.
He noted that health institutions in Oman have the right to admit a patient against his will who is likely to commit suicide, such as someone who has taken an overdose of an over-the -counter medicine.
Al Maqbali said that a large number of Omanis who killed themselves in the last five years were over 50 years old.
“As a human grows older, he becomes more prone to depression. Many parents feel emptiness after their children leave them to get married or work far from the family house,” he explained.
A recent case study conducted in Oman involved a 52-year-old retired man who slashed his neck with a knife.
He had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder three years before the suicide attempt, according to the study.
“His depressive episode was precipitated and aggravated by financial problems and the stress of caring for his elderly father, who was diagnosed with dementia,” the study revealed.
He responded well to treatment and was followed-up regularly for three years, but stopped attending the clinic and discontinued his medication two months before the suicide attempt.
One morning, he returned from dawn prayer and found his family sleeping. Later, he drove to his farm, located in a remote area, and cut his throat with a knife.
He was rushed to a hospital after his wife found him, according to the case study.
“After recovering from emergency surgery, he was seen at the psychiatry clinic and said that he was happy to have survived, but that he felt ashamed that others knew about his suicide attempt and that he violated the religious beliefs on self-harming behaviour,” the study said.
Al Maqbali added that, last year, a religious cleric threw himself from a mosque minaret and ended his life, due to his severe depression.
It is worth mentioning that 75 per cent of suicides worldwide occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to WHO.