Growing worry about suicide in Jamaica

By Pedro Forte, CFT, SET, ISSA
Officials have recently expressed concern about the spike in the number of people seeking counselling services for depression, a condition which, if ignored, could possibly lead to suicide. Among those who expressed concern, were officials from the Ministry of Health, the police force and the Ministry of Education.
Chief Education Officer of the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean, confirmed that this summer, a disturbing number of letters were submitted ‘to the ministry’ by parents of students who were threatening to commit suicide because their children did not pass for the desired schools.
“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,” said Dr McLean.
Dr McLean was delivering the opening address of the World Suicide Prevention Day seminar and book donation drive held at the Jamaica Conference Centre.
She made reference the distressing number of calls received between the 2010-2011 school year, when the ministry first established the national hotline to reach out to ‘disheartened’ students. She highlighted, that the ministry received approximately a million calls from parents seeking guidance about how to deal with situations that were plaguing them and their children.
Dr McLean said, in addition to the growing number of cases, that there 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.”

Chaplain emeritus Assistant Commissioner of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Gary Welsh said, that as many as 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 suicides.
Nonetheless, he said that he felt encouraged by data which suggests that more policemen faced with depression were seeking counselling. He also revealed that major steps were being taken to further address the problem.
Co-host of the event and Founder of Choose Life International (CLI), Dr Donovan Thomas, said that the organisation carried out an emotional assessment of over 400 primary school students across the island last year and found evidence of the worrying development.
“Over 100 of them needed special treatment because they were at risk for suicide. That is a major cause for concern,” stressed Dr Thomas.

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