Young people slipping through the cracks of society – Psychiatrist
October 12, 2012
Young people slipping through the cracks of society – Psychiatrist

With St Vincent and the Grenadines recording five suicides so far for the year, psychiatrist Dr Amrie Morris-Patterson is of the view that too many of our young people are slipping through the cracks.{{more}} She is also concerned about the effect media reports may have on those contemplating suicide.

And while it is known that five persons, all young, succeeded in taking their lives this year, the number of others who may have attempted to do so is unknown.

One of the most recent attempts may have taken place this week, as according to information reaching SEARCHLIGHT, on Monday, a female attending one of the nation’s rural secondary schools, attempted to take her life by jumping off the school building.

If that is not alarming enough, SEARCHLIGHT understands that since the start of the school term, two other students of the same school, one male and one female, also attempted to take their lives in incidents which took place at their homes.

When contacted on Tuesday, the principal of the school declined to give a comment, but did not deny or confirm the reports.

Speaking generally on the issue of suicide, Dr Morris-Patterson explained that research has shown that for every suicide there are about twenty attempted suicides.

“So, as much as we are alarmed about the five suicides that we’ve had for this year, there have been a number of attempted suicides that others may not be aware of, but practitioners in the medical field would have witnessed these issues,” Dr Morris-Patterson said.

According to Dr Morris-Patterson, as part of the recognition of mental health week last year, the focus point was on young people. This, she said, was in an attempt to make the nation aware that focusing on the emotional health of young people is becoming something of paramount importance in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Dr Morris-Patterson, who works at the Mental Health Centre at Glen, reported that about 80 per cent of the attempted suicide cases among young people here are linked to household issues.

“Family dysfunction, parenting, absence of parents, parents who are neglectful, parents who are abusive, and children, because of their age, may not be able to — even some adults have difficulties expressing how they feel. Children react to things differently.

“They try to get your attention by acting out and some of them will withdraw…” she added.

The psychiatrist, however, noted that the issue of suicide is both a public health issue and one which involves all systems in the society.

Suicide, she said, “just does not come out of nowhere”.

“There are predisposing factors that would have occurred in an individual’s life, usually from childhood,” she said.

“That’s why we keep emphasizing that it is important to deal with children and their emotional state.”

According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is now the fourth leading cause of death in the 15 to 44-year-old age group.

One of the reasons highlighted by Dr Morris-Patterson is the change in the structure of today’s society.

“People are more individualistic. The parents are more occupied trying to climb the ladder and a lot of parents are not there to supervise their children. Long ago parents used to be home. When you come home they would cook your food. Maybe the abuse might have been there, but they were there.

“Now a lot of children are unsupervised,” she said, adding that the media, via the form of television, now plays the role of a babysitter.

…”Both the family system, the church and the school, they acted as buffers for children before and I think that has an effect.

“Also, the effect of the media and the increase in technology have been proven to be associated with depression. Increased cell phone use and things like that are shown to be associated with depression.

“So, I think … all the systems together are not as cohesive as they used to be,” Dr Morris-Patterson said.

Asked if some of the five reported suicide cases could have been “copycats”, Dr Morris-Patterson said it may have been the case in three of them.

She made the point that the local media has a very important role to play on how such cases are reported.

“When we had the three clusters, the method was the same…

“The media has a responsibility as to how they report suicide. There is something that is called the “Werther Effect,” where one suicide is sensationalized, people who are already thinking about it or who are already vulnerable now feel empowered to do it.

“And so it’s recommended that the media has to be extremely careful in how they report, especially in the newspapers. It’s not to be on the front page or the back page … and even the wording should not be sensational so that to make those who are already vulnerable feel empowered to go on and complete what they may have already been thinking.

“So, that is what you call the copycat suicides, where one happens and you’ll see a similar method that may be used by those who follow subsequently,” the psychiatrist said.

According to the WHO, every forty seconds, someone around the globe commits suicide.

Research has shown that 90 per cent of the people who kill themselves are depressed. Almost one million lives are lost yearly due to suicide, which translates to approximately 3,000 suicides every day.