Crazy expectationsdriving children to suicide
Each year thousands of Jamaican children are thrust into high-pressure situations as they prepare to sit examinations that will determine the next road towards their dreams.
This anxiety often drives them to the point of frustration and desperation, as they strive to not only achieve personal goals, but to meet the lofty expectations of parents, guardians and teachers.
And, according to experts, this “crazy” expectation from adults, with a laser focus on outstanding results, places students under immense pressure, which too often robs them of any chance of enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood and pushes some to attempt to or commit suicide.
“We see it a lot in our students,” UNICEF health specialist Novia Condell shared with The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“Let’s start with the PEP (Primary Exit Profile) exams and the crazy expectations and crazy schedules that we have the preadolescents studying. Then comes the extra lessons and they (parents) take them out of clubs and extracurricular activities to develop and build them overall for this academic hammering of a whole lot information, just to get into high school.”
She continued: “We see it every year. The parents go through it and the children go through it, and that is just the start of a long line of crazy expectations. Then comes high school with the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) exams.”
The UNICEF health specialist noted, however: “We know every parent is coming from a good place, so we do not want to cry down parental expectations.”
But she stressed that while encouragement from parents and belief in their children are critical to development and self-worth, Jamaicans have gone overboard in pressuring youngsters to succeed.
According to data published in the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica released by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, last year 64 persons committed suicide, four of whom were below the age of 18.
“Our students are telling us that they are under tremendous pressure to perform, to achieve, not just from their parents but from schools, from everywhere, and there has to be a way for us, in the face of all this pressure, to give them more support. There has to be a way to teach them how to manage through this because a lot of them are ill-quipped to manage. It is definitely a challenge and a difficulty and it is something that we really have to examine,” said Condell.
DOING THE UNEXPECTED
She noted that a Global School Health Survey done by the National Council on Drug Abuse shows that between the ages of 15 and 17, the suicide ideation spikes.
Over the years, health specialists have reported several attempted suicides among youngsters.
“Our kids are under so much pressure that they start thinking, ‘Oh my gosh! This is too much. I can’t cope. I can’t manage’, then the depression, the anxiety, the suicidal thoughts creep in,” she said.
“Somehow we have not been able to square that circle to really look at how to support them, how to train our teachers and educators, and our parents, too, how to better support them through that period.”
Dr Kevin Goulbourne, director of mental health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, disclosed that the response from some children to this kind of pressure is to do the unexpected.
“Some youngsters go to the other extreme. They don’t do any schoolwork and just stay on the social media platforms and play games,” he said.
“These are boys who were doing well prior to COVID-19 and then they’ll have a switch where they don’t business with school any more and they get involved with other things. So they’ll go to the other extreme, where they just struggle through school and just give up on school and do everything else.”
September 10 was observed as World Suicide Prevention Day under the theme ‘Creating Hope Through Action’.
Persons needing help can reach out to the Ministry of Health and Wellness at its 24-hour mental health and suicide prevention helpline at 888-NEW-LIFE (888-639-5433).