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Watch out for symptoms of depression, says health minister

BY NADINE WILSON Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 12, 2012    

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WITH a recent survey showing that 23 per cent of school-children in Jamaica have contemplated suicide, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson said more attention needs to be given to detecting the symptoms of adolescent depression.

These symptoms, he said, include withdrawal from family and friends, losing interest in extra-curricular activities, displaying a lack of energy, anxiety, anger, sadness, significant weight fluctuation, and indifference about the future, and often lead to risk taking, cutting and suicide.

"Fractured families due to migration, other forms of separation, inter-personal conflicts and ruthlessness; depression, a sense of not belonging, pressure to perform in school, are cited among the causes of adolescent suicide," the minister pointed out during Monday's launch of World Suicide Prevention Day at the Wyndham hotel in Kingston.

The minister noted that while Jamaica has one of the lowest suicide rates at 3.2 per 100,000 persons within the population, the gradual increase of the figure among adolescents is of particular concern.

President and founder of Choose Life International (CLI) Dr Donovan Thomas said he, too, was concerned about the fact that a number of teens were viewing suicide as a viable option to tough situations. In research he carried out last year, he found that 12 per cent of children between 11 and 13 years old have attempted suicide.

Thomas and his wife Faith started CLI in 2008 after interfacing with a number of teenagers who wanted to commit suicide. He noted that just last week alone, he received about 40 calls from suicidal persons. Some, he said were in tears, and saw ending their lives as the only option.

"As we look at the reasons, we realise that there is loss; loss of finances, loss of relationship, loss of loved ones. People are killing themselves to escape the present realities; people are killing themselves because of broken love affairs, people are killing themselves because of molestation and sexual abuse and other forms of abuse," he said.

A total of 779 people took their lives between 1996 and 2009. Another 28 committed suicide in 2010, and 53 more individuals took their lives in 2011. The ratio of men to women committing suicide was seven to one.

"As we look at the figures concerning suicide, over the last decade, an average of 50 people have taken their lives every year in this nation," he said.

"It is believed that for every one person who dies by suicide, at least 20 have attempted and probably another 20 have thought about it," asserted Dr Thomas who is the author of Confronting Suicide: Helping Teens at Risk. He has partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide specialist training to guidance counsellors in suicide intervention and prevention.

Meanwhile, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr Aggrey Irons noted that suicide is not a matter of choice for some people, especially for individuals suffering from depression. He said doctors were therefore trying to adopt new approaches to dealing with medical issues.

"We don't want to be seen as those people who you connect with when you are sick. We are promoting life and love and help and hope; in fact, prevention is the thing that we are most into," he said.

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