KINGSTON – Noted suicide prevention counsellor Dr Donovan Thomas is cautioning Jamaicans against being misled by low suicide statistics, arguing that the act of taking one’s life, as well as depression are significant problems in the country.
“It is incorrect to say suicide is not an issue in Jamaica. It may not be a major issue, but we have about one suicide every week in this nation, and one suicide is one too many. As we speak, there is an 11-year-old waiting to be buried because he took his own life,” Dr Thomas, founder of Choose Life International, told reporters and editors at yesterday’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
Thomas and a team of experts, as well as two individuals who had personal experiences with suicide, spoke at the Exchange held to observe World Suicide Prevention Day.
Choose Life International has scheduled a seminar for this Friday at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, to discuss the issue. The seminar’s theme is Working together to prevent suicide.
According to police data presented at the Monday Exchange, in 2017 there were 47 suicides, 42 of which were committed by men, while in 2016 there were 55 suicides, 50 of them by males.
Acting director of mental health and drug abuse in the health ministry, Dr Kevin Goulbourne, who was also at the Exchange, said that a school survey of students ages 13 to 17 found that 18 per cent had attempted suicide, and 25 per cent had seriously considered ending their lives in the 12 months preceding the canvass.
He said most of the people attempting suicide in Jamaica range from ages 10 to 39. In 2016, two children under age 10 completed suicide, and at the other end of the spectrum, four individuals over the age of 90 ended their lives in 2017.
Dr Thomas emphasized that Jamaicans should be proactive and not become complacent based on the statistics. “What I find is that many times we are not proactive. The call is for us to be proactive as a nation . . . . It is not true that people are not killing themselves, we have evidence right here . . . . It is true that the rate of suicide is low compared to other parts of the world, but . . . we want to be able to deal with what’s happening right here in our nation,” he argued.
Dr Thomas said 80 per cent of the people who complete suicide are those who have attempted to take their lives before. “Every threat must be taken seriously. Every time somebody says, ‘I feel like I want to kill myself’, the threat can be overt or subtle. Then a threat moves to a plan, and the more detailed the plan the closer the person is to the suicide act,“ he explained.
“Sometimes people live under difficult conditions and they want to escape those unpleasant realities,” he said, pointing out that among the signs that someone is suicidal is withdrawal from friends and families [in] preparation for death. He pointed to an incident in which a mother was seeking to give her child away in preparation to take her life.
Dr Thomas said other signs to watch out for include change in sleeping and eating habits, and unusual neglect of personal appearance.
“Hopelessness, sometimes just failure in exams, sometimes financial reversals, those are things that could trigger people to take their lives,” he added.
He noted that mental illness is high on the list of reasons for suicide, as more than 80 per cent of those who complete suicide have a mental illness. “In Jamaica, depression and other mental illnesses are [often] undiagnosed,” he said.
Dr Thomas said it is for this reason that his organization offers emotional intelligence assessments for students at grade 7, in an attempt to identify mental illnesses and other precursors to suicide in the early stages.
Choose Life International provides support and empowerment services to schools, churches, and the wider community in the prevention of suicide. It also delivers a corporate staff wellness and support programme. (Jamaica Observer)