A clinical psychologist has called for urgent interventions to save the lives of young people amid a spike in suicides in Barbados, mainly involving young men.
“I am not saying it as a slogan, I am saying ‘God please, we need to get them the access to help that they need’,” Christa Soleyn pleaded while participating in a discussion on Youth Mental Health hosted by the United Nations Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean as part of events to mark International Youth Day.
She warned that many young people are grappling with a range of issues and authorities must act now to provide a lifeline before it’s too late.
“Lots of young people don’t know how to cope. I am talking about in schools,” Soleyn said, suggesting that intervention should start in a serious way in schools.
“If we are teaching young people how to cope every week, a mental health Monday, and we are drilling it into them as much as we drill everything else, we can see a change but we have to put our resources where our mouth is.”
In recent times, there has been a notable increase in suicides, particularly among males, with at least one being reported per month.
Soleyn fears it will continue to be a challenge if society does not change its approach to mental health.
“Mental health can’t be a line item anymore. I am tired of mental health being a line item in budgets, a line item in policy. We have to get serious and it has to be all hands on deck when we see people struggling, and be able to say ‘let me see how I can help’,” she said.
The clinical psychologist was most concerned that society can become desensitised to young people taking their lives.
She further lamented that boys were missing from the discussion.
“We are in a culture where males are not allowed to show particular emotions. We are in a generation where yes, you have issues as a man but I [female] have so many other issues, and it should not be one over the other. We are seeing a lot of young males committing suicide; that is a problem and that is a problem because as a society we are still not saying ‘it’s ok if you are not ok’,” Soleyn said.
She suggested another factor driving the worrying trend is a sense of hopelessness.
“People are struggling. Everybody in this room at some point has had a moment in the pandemic … but we have persons with a socio-economic background who we cannot even understand what they are going through and this idea of hopelessness Is crushing.
“Churches, community groups, football groups, sporting groups, everybody all hands on deck. If we don’t do that we are going to continue this little trend that we are seeing, we are going to continue to get a pit in our stomachs,” Soleyn said.
Fellow panelist Pierre Cooke Jr, a member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Group, suggested that Barbados and the rest of the region must kickstart a conversation on redefining masculinity to allow men to express their emotions.
Alluding to the suicide of 21-year-old Keshawn Bartlett last month, he said: “The situation in St Thomas recently was a sad, sad situation, and from hearing the accounts of the persons there, the young man was crying out for help, and so where were the people around him that were able to provide that type of support?
“It takes courage and it will always take courage for a young man to stand up and say, ‘I don’t feel so good, boy, I feel a little depressed, I feel a little down, I might need to go to see a therapist or something’.
“But we need to create that type of society in Barbados and across the region, where young men feel comfortable speaking about their feelings, where young men feel as if ‘I don’t have to live up to this very unattainable standard of masculinity in order to be seen as a man in society’. That is a conversation we need to have and that is a conversation we are not having,” he added.
At the same time, another panelist and President and Founder of Let’s Unpack It, David Johnson, expressed concern that society appeared to have given up its responsibility to address suicides.
He called for a return to a true sense of community where the young are nurtured and cared for,
“And so, if you see a young man struggling and you realise he is from a challenged household, he probably doesn’t have a proper male role model in that household, he doesn’t have caring parents. Why is your response to stand back and do nothing?” Johnson said.