Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Suicide leaves biggest casualties behind

Published:Friday | April 26, 2019 | 12:37 AM
Dr Donovan Thomas, a suicidologist, provides counselling support for persons and families who have suicidal thoughts or have been affected by the loss of a loved one through suicide.
Dr Donovan Thomas, a suicidologist, provides counselling support for persons and families who have suicidal thoughts or have been affected by the loss of a loved one through suicide.

With an average of one suicide per week in Jamaica, according to the police, another family is plunged into the abyss of psychological and emotional trauma that has the potential to last a lifetime.

The Statistics and Information Management Unit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force reveals that there were 55, 47, and 61 suicides for 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively.

Andrea Dixon’s brother*, who killed himself more than two decades ago, was among the 20-29 age cohort which has the highest incidence of suicide. However, the pain of her loss still remains fresh and is rehashed every time she hears of another suicide.

Perhaps what burdens Andrea most is the missed opportunity to hear what her brother wanted to tell her. Three days after his unfulfilled request for time to talk, he turned a gun to his head.

“If only I had made the time, perhaps he would have been alive, or at least I would have known the reason he did it,” she bemoaned.

Andrea had a close relationship with her brother with whom she shared her home. She said that it was not apparent to her that he was dealing with a huge burden. His death resulted in a traumatic experience for her family.

“I cried a lot. Within one week of his death, I lost 25 pounds. My mother didn’t take it too well either. She bottles up her feelings and has never talked about it,” she said.

Since his death, Andrea has harboured suicidal thoughts many times. She has attended at least three counselling sessions in the past three years.

“Sometimes when I get the feeling, I’ll talk with someone. However, sometimes I feel that persons believe I’m doing this to get attention. I live in a cold world. People pretend to care about me, but they don’t. It won’t be a big deal [to anyone] if I kill myself,” the mother of two opined.

Choose Life International is a 10-year-old faith-based non-governmental organisation located in Kingston whose primary focus is to provide counselling support for persons who have suicidal thoughts or have been affected by the loss of a loved one through suicide.

Founded by Dr Donovan Thomas, a suicidologist, and his wife, Faith, the organisation provides counselling for up to three persons a day, face to face or on the telephone.

LACK OF SPONSORSHIP

“We are flooded with demands from persons seeking help. There is so much more we could do if we could get sponsorship from organisations so that more persons can benefit from the help. Also, we would love to have the help of qualified psychologists to take some of the calls.”

Thomas is looking forward to collaborating with the Ministry of Health on establishing a 24-hour toll-free mental health-suicide prevention hotline.

“We have started training for persons who will be responding to the telephone calls,” he disclosed.

Diana Henry, a former guidance counsellor at a Corporate Area high school who is now pursuing a master’s degree in forensic psychology at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, points out that the stigma and trauma of suicide can cause long-term psychological and emotional effects on families.

“Some persons never get over it. They deal with extreme guilt, questioning themselves whether they contributed to it or whether they could have done something to prevent it,” said Henry. “On the other hand, some harbour resentment and anger as they are left in a state of confusion.”

Pointing out other challenges for families, Henry said: “People can sometimes be judgemental and cast blame. Some persons even disassociate themselves from the family. Even family members become separated because they don’t know how to deal with it.”

She explained that some persons don’t talk about the issue, so they find other ways to deal with it such as turning to alcoholism.

“Some families do not avail themselves of counselling because they see a stigma attached to counselling,” Henry said.

“Have family time at least at one time per week and encourage communication so that other family members don’t become victims. Build relationships with your children so that they can come to you about anything. Maintain a relationship with God. He can take any negative situation and turn it around.”

According to the World Health Organization, close to 800,000 people commit suicide every year. It is the second-leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. For every suicide, there are many more people who attempted it.

*Not her real name