Suicide Watch

Warning as increased number of adults, kids seek counselling for depression

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Observer staff reporter

Thursday, September 10, 2015

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THE police force and the ministries of health and education yesterday signalled that they are seeing a jump in the number of people seeking counselling for depression, a condition which, if left untreated, could lead to suicide.

In the island's schools, the Ministry of Education said that this summer it received an alarming number of letters from parents of students who were threatening to commit suicide because they were not placed in the schools of their choice.

"Personally, this year I got so many letters screaming alarm about cases where GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) students who, because they didn't get into their school of choice ...were threatening suicide," Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean said yesterday.

She was speaking at the opening of the World Suicide Prevention Day seminar and book donation drive held at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

McLean said that in the past there have been even more alarming signs.

One of them came in the 2010-2011 school year, the first year that the ministry set up a national hotline to reach out to students. Then, she said, the ministry received approximately a million calls from parents seeking help to address problems that they themselves, and their children, were facing.

Since then, however, the ministry said it has localised the system to particular regions, but the new approach makes it more difficult to record annual figures, a source told the Jamaica Observer.

In addition to the growing number of cases, Dr McLean said, is an apparent lack of resilience among students.

"Our people do not seem to have the resilience that I certainly learnt while I was growing up," she said. "Our children, especially, feel that once there is a disappointment it is the end of the world. Disappointment does not appear to build their character or their stamina for other disappointments to come."

As for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, chaplain emeritus Assistant Commissioner Gary Welsh said some 14 police officers have committed suicide over the last 15 years, with the highest number in any one year being committed in 2015, which has so far recorded four.

He said, however, that he was encouraged by the data that showed more policemen facing depression were going to seek help, and added that serious steps were being made to address the problem.

Yesterday's event was hosted by Choose Life International (CLI), in partnership with the Ministry of Health and other entities. It was staged to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day which is observed every year on September 10.

Founder of CLI Dr Donovan Thomas said the organisation carried out an emotional assessment of over 400 primary school students across the island last year and found evidence of the worrying trend.

"Over 100 of them needed special treatment because they were at risk for suicide. That is a major cause for concern," Dr Thomas said.

"Visits were made to several schools and the question was asked 'When last you thought of hurting yourself?' and as recently as last week someone told us 'Yesterday, last night'," he continued.

"Almost every day we get calls from persons who are at the point of taking their own lives," the CLI founder said.

"We get calls from parents or guardians who are hungry for help," Thomas, a trained pastor, said. He added that a recent survey carried out by UNICEF and the Health Ministry has found that 61 per cent of the country's adolescents have thought of suicide. Twenty per cent of those, he said, are at risk of suicide.

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