The project manager and co-founder of Prevention for Progress, Marika Natadze, confirmed the essential role of conversation in preventing suicide. “There are many public stigmas attached to suicide. The prevalent view is that talking about suicide, especially with young people, should be avoided. The fact is, however, that for most people, and primarily for young people, it is a relief to be able to share their emotional burden with someone else, to be supported and encouraged. If we really do care and are prepared to help, we must start a conversation about suicide.”
Prevention for Progress was founded in 2014 as a civil society organization. For many years it focused on the juvenile justice system and is responsible for multiple important research and advocacy projects. These are in areas relating to legal rights in juvenile correctional institutions, crime prevention, the effectiveness of the probation system, and so forth.
“The social protective services and how effectively they operate have an important bearing on crime prevention, as well as on suicide prevention. Once we found this point of intersection, we set to work on our project for suicide prevention” stated Tato Kelbakiani, co-founder of Prevention for Progress.
According to Tato Kelbakiani, the initial goal of the organization was to collect relevant information and to explore state policy. Europe Foundation supported Prevention for Progress in these efforts.
“Due to the lack of information, it is too early to discuss designing a preventive system. The research has made it abundantly clear that there are no reliable statistics that accurately depict the number of suicide cases, as there is no standard in place for data collection. The responsible agencies do not have a uniform approach to data aggregation. Another important factor is the increasing scarcity of accurate information that would provide an insight into the underlying causes and circumstances of suicides.
Natalia Tsagareli, co-founder and project director of Prevention for Progress, believes that the development of prevention policy requires various perspectives.
“First and foremost, we should have reliable statistics disaggregated by sex, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious belief, crime scene, suicide method, etc. Unless we have access to this information, it will be nearly impossible to identify the groups that are at greatest risk for suicide, to then take preventive measures, or implement suicide prevention projects,” she pointed out.
There are two agencies responsible for providing suicide data. The National Statistics Office of Georgia (Georstat) derives information from health accounts, i.e., forms filled in by medical institutions, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs collects suicide figures from criminal statistics. Hence, there is no overlap between the data of these two agencies. For example, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports 379 suicide cases in 2020, while the number of suicide cases registered by Georstat is 202.
Kelbakiani added, “Such a vast difference between the two sets of figures calls the credibility of both sources of information into question. There is no uniform vision on how the data should be registered and by whom, not to mention compliance with international standards.” He believes the solution is to develop a single data collection policy.
The recent research conducted by Prevention for Progress sets forth a data collection mechanism that will enable the implementation of real work on preventive measures.
“We have a vision of an inter-agency coordination mechanism that can supervise and coordinate the operation of the registration system,” said Tsagareli. “All arrangements should be made to ensure that working groups are set up, a proper suicide registration form is created, staff is trained, and sufficient financial and technical resources are allocated. It calls for both political will and inter-agency coordnation to make this happen.”
Coupled with the research, the organization began effective steps toward preventing suicide, particularly among young people. The grantee targeted a range of professionals with potentially greater contacts with minors, e.g., sports club coaches, single mothers, religious leaders, and resource officers, among others.
“The task at hand was to enhance the awareness of the selected individuals so that they can rapidly recognize and respond to suicidal behaviour,” elaborated Marika Natadze. “Regrettably, oftentimes we analyze the clues and signs that someone may have been contemplating suicide only after they have actually ended their own life. We should therefore be vigilant in spotting the warning signs and suspicious behaviour to respond quickly.“
Within the framework of the Save the Life project, 42 people were trained in identifying suicidal behaviours. A special webpage, savethelife.ge, was developed offering free consultations. About 96 young people have benefitted from these services. The organization’s team believes that when society is equipped with appropriate knowledge, it can combat the issue altogether.
Ms. Natadze affirmed that it is important to break the taboo and encourage society to start talking through the problem. She explained that methods of intervention exist and vary based on the suicide risk level in terms of suicidal thinking, a clear intention to die, and so on.
“Each level of suicide risk is addressed with relevant intervention practices, and the more we know about the plan, the better we can manage preventing suicide.”
Global statistics indicate that for each case of suicide that succeeds, there are more than 20 attempts. Statistics for 2020 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs reveal that for every suicide resulting in death, there are 200 individuals who attempted it. Representatives of Prevention for Progress believe that with a well-prepared society and an effective system, suicide rates will gradually decrease.
Mainstreaming the issue of suicide is one of the project’s key achievements, the organization’s founder believes.
“The main point is that we realized the need for improvement, and the responsible agencies expressed their commitment to continue coordination on this issue.”
It is important that 40 civil society organizations became aware of the country’s suicide prevention policy through this project. The Prevention for Progress team believes that they have completed the stage of problem identification.
“Since the problem has been actualized, and the agencies concerned appear poised for cooperation, we are confident we will go ahead with our plan to eventually formulate a suicide prevention strategy.”