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Extremely disturbing! - Little support available for teens with suicidal thoughts

Published:Friday | September 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

With half of the wards of the State surveyed in two of the country's residential childcare facilities admitting to having considered committing suicide in the past, there are renewed calls for more attention to be given to adolescent mental health.

The 2015 Child Health and Wellness Study in Residential Childcare Facilities, which was commissioned by the Child Development Agency (CDA) in collaboration with the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), through funding from the United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF), found that 40 per cent of the 63 girls surveyed had attempted suicide.

In addition, 65 per cent of those who had attempted suicide also reported having made suicide plans. Over half the girls (57%) also reported that they had friends who had attempted suicide.

But despite the high level of suicide ideation and attempted suicide among the group, one in three reported that they had never accessed counselling or mental-health services, while 19 per cent had never done a physical examination.

"These are kids who have gone through some level of trauma, so yes, we would expect that there would be some mental-health challenge," said adolescent health and empowerment specialist at UNICEF, Novia Condell-Gibson.

"But what we need now is sustained mental-health support for children who would have experienced this type of situation. I know that the CDA has upped the ante in this area but there is still room for more improvement."

Condell-Gibson further pointed out that there are guidelines on how the public-health system needs to be interfacing with the childcare and protection system, but this is not happening.




"The Ministry of Health had done a suicidality study and it was found that the 15 to 25 population were the highest number of suicide-attempt cases in our hospitals," noted Condell-Gibson.

"Basically, adolescent health is an area that needs an awful lot of attention. Jamaica has done so much great work in early childhood development; making sure kids are in school, they are properly immunised and all of that, but by the time they get to adolescence the work kind of tend to slack off."

Director of children and family programmes at the CDA, Audrey Budhi, agreed that there is a lack of mental-health services for the adolescent group.

She said this is an issue that is affecting adolescents in the wider society and those in the childcare facilities.

"Outside, and even inside, our own facilities, when there is the suicidal ideation or attempted suicide, we have to depend on the public-health system and the supporting structure and supporting system is limited," said Budhi.

"So we have had to find private doctors and facilities to lean on in a number of situations, especially emergencies," added Budhi.

Director of health promotion and prevention at the NFPB, Andrea Campbell, underscored that sufficient support is not available for adolescents as there is a shortage of mental-health practitioners.

"The adolescents need special attention but the system is overwhelmed," said Campbell.

"We have these young persons in these homes and so on, and they are there for a reason and this will put them at a higher risk for suicide, and they need help.

"We don't want it to reach the stage where they are attempting suicide. Things should be in place where they are screened and those who are identified to need the service, there should be enough practitioners in place for them to get the service needed," argued Campbell.



5 Suicide prevention tips


Know the warning signs. These include suicidal threats in the form of direct and indirect statements, a marked change in behaviour or appearance, a preoccupation with death, the giving away of prized possessions and, perhaps the most telling, previous suicide attempts.

Confront the situation, not the person. If you have noticed any of these signs in a family member or friend, you may ask the person directly if she/he is contemplating suicide. Focus on your concern for the person's well-being, listen and reassure him/her that help is available. Avoid being judgemental.

Get help. Contact a counsellor or other mental health professional as soon as possible.

Follow up. Don't assume that the person is 'cured' from suicidal tendencies after a counselling session or two, or if she/he has been placed on medication for depression. Be on the lookout for a recurrence of the warning signs.

Clear the environment. Remove or lock up means of self-harm such as firearms, knives and medication from his/her environment.

For more information and assistance, contact Choose Life International, 28 Haining Road, Kingston 5, Jamaica -

(876) 920-7924.