Suicide and the young

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Dear Editor,

BY NOW, the general consensus globally is that suicide prevention is a holistic endeavour, and any missing link in the chain would certainly significantly impede efforts to save lives. Within this context, the work done in schools and among the 15-25 age group must be supplemented, so that the endeavours reach every school — at least high schools and youth entities.Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to follow the lead of the New Jersey Arya Samaj Mandir (NJASM) and organize a nationwide campaign to reach remaining schools with the workshop on self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness; and dealing with stressors.

Feedback from workshops held by NJASM and TCV (in collaboration with our partners, especially GIVE Foundation), has been disturbing, as, across the board, we have learnt that young people suffer from sexual abuse and, to a lesser extent, physical abuse; and as well, many have suffered/suffer from depression, while some have even been suicidal.

Also, drugs and alcohol are creeping into the school system. No wonder the highest suicide rate is in the 15 to 25 age group.

This trend makes it urgently critical for guidance counsellors to be posted to schools as soon as possible. So, once again, we call on the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, to fulfill his promise made months ago to effect this measure.

Also, we strongly suggest that the mentoring programme launched by students of Queen’s College — whereby senior students take junior students under their wings and mentor them — be implemented in all high schools.

Furthermore, we note that North Ruimveldt Secondary has taken the lead in suicide prevention awareness activities, and we strongly urge other high schools to follow suit.

Finally, we urge mass-based and community-based organizations, especially churches/mosques/mandirs, trade unions, political parties and Parent-Teachers Associations to organize forums on empathetic communication, self-empowerment, dealing with stress, and developing coping skills. The fact is that these youngsters spend more time at home than at school, so it is critical to ensure that the home environment is also addressed so that school supports home, and vice versa.

In fact, over the last year or so, a number of calls have been made for parenting sessions to be held to help tackle suicide; and those calls have been repeated at the various community outreaches held by various stakeholders at which The Caribbean Voice has participated. This is an absolute necessity, not only because suicide affects families, but also because families are in the best position to identify warning signs and seek help for at-risk members. But it is also necessary because lack of empathetic communication, especially as it relates to parents and teenagers, is quite clearly a huge factor in suicide.

Contrary to what some have expressed, the issue is not that parents do not love their children; but, rather, that parents do not have the requisite skills to deal with family conflicts and problems in general. In fact, far too many parents fall back on the socialization process that informed their childhood and growing up years, as well as prevailing misinformation and myths. Besides, lack of parenting skills also impact violence, especially among the youth, as well as ethics and morality.

Given this reality, we urge parents to always be alert to what’s happening in the lives of their teenagers, and especially to be aware of any problems teenagers face. Parents should always find out how their teenagers are doing, and if anything’s bothering them. And in addressing any problems, parents must choose their words very carefully, since words can, and often do, take on lives of their own.

Regardless of what the issues are, parents must let their teenagers know that they are loved, and that they can always depend on the help and support of their parents. The lives of children are more important than anything else; and whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness. Thus parents must not use language that would alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste, or make them feel alone and lonely.

And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today.

Most importantly, parents need to understand any pain and agony their children suffer, and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help, things will get better. As youth leader in the Caribbean Voice, Rayon Mantoos, puts it, parents have to work towards the following: Cutting down — if not eliminating – nagging and lecturing, which generally cause children to stop listening to what is being said and become resentful as well. Instead, keep conversations brief; don’t repeat things too often; and, if necessary, develop a set of consequences with children so they take ownership for their behaviours and actions and embrace the consequences. Parents should also desist from interrupting when their children are expressing themselves, so that children feel that what they have to say is given value; Do not be directly critical of children. If necessary, enter into a discussion about behaviour and/or actions, and work with children to understand where they may have gone wrong and what would be better options. Absolutely do not keep dwelling on the past, as children need to know that they can start over with a clean slate. If a pattern develops, then maybe have a supportive and caring family intervention. Desist from trying to control children through guilt, because this is a sure way to negatively affect relationships and children’s self-esteem as well. Do not use sarcasm, as this can have negative effects on children in many ways. Work with children to help them solve their problems, instead of imposing solutions, as this can lead to resentment. Instead, offer guidance and scope for them to find solutions, as children need to learn by themselves and know that they are capable and trusted.

Never put down children, even as a joke. This can lead to children feeling rejected, unloved and inadequate. Never use threats, as these can lead to children feeling powerless and resentful. With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved, parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that we all make mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact, even as adults, we still continue to make mistakes. So when our teens make mistakes, we must understand that it is not the end of the world, or even the end of life. Life goes on and, as parents, we must first help our teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made, and then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And when necessary, we must reach for help if we feel that we are not fully capable of providing the help needed by our teenagers.

While the focus here is on parents/children relationships, it must be noted that empathetic communication is also an important tool in all relationships, and can be a critical difference in adult relationships. Thus the same strategies mentioned above can be adapted to suit these adult/adult relationships as well.

The fact is that empathetic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving, and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventually violence.

The bottom line is that the time and efforts invested in these measures will save lives, lives that may very well be those of our loved ones. So we all need to do what’s necessary and make suicide and violence prevention everybody’s business. For more information and every sort of help, including finding trainers, dealing with relationships, finding counsellors or dealing with abuse, please touch base with the Ministry of Health or Social Protection, regional health authorities, health institutions, regional social workers, or The Caribbean Voice.
Regards,
ANNAN BOODRAM
The Caribbean Voice