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Counsellor: Don’t take students’ suicide threats lightly

Published:Wednesday | March 22, 2023 | 12:37 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer

Tracy Ann Taffe Thompson, the immediate past president of the Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education, is urging parents not to disregard their children’s behaviours and utterances that might indicate suicidal intentions.

“Once they utter it once, that means there is a challenge that they are having, and they can’t seem to navigate their way out,” she said during a Gleaner interview on Tuesday.

Taffe Thompson stated that while she could not speak to any increase in the number of cases of students struggling with suicidal thoughts, she said that a number of institutions had an issue with this coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But I do know from the primary level, that there has been an increase,” she said.

She asserted that there were some cases where parents tended to disregard the early signs of their children having suicidal thoughts, believing that children are too young to experience difficulties in life such as stress.

This, outlook, she said, was an injustice to the children.

“As much as things may look fine to us, their interpretation of life in itself can be challenging ... . Figuring out life can be overwhelming if you are not equipped,” she said.

On Tuesday afternoon, a student from The Queen’s School climbed atop of a multi-storey block at the St Andrew-based institution, where she remained for hours, reportedly threatening to jump.

Police personnel and the fire department worked in collaboration to get the student down.

Gleaner calls to Principal Jennifer Williams went unanswered on Tuesday.

While not speaking specifically to Tuesday’s incident, Taffe Thompson told The Gleaner that in some instances, children lacked spiritual maturity.

“There is no attention being paid to that, so they have nothing and no one to draw on except themselves ... . They don’t have that confidence and reassurance that things will get better,” she said of the children, adding that many felt hopeless and without parents to properly supervise and guide them.

Since the beginning of 2023, there have been at least two reported instances of school-aged children committing suicide. In February, a 16-year-old girl reportedly committed suicide at her Braeton home in Portmore, St Catherine. Earlier this month, a nine-year-old boy was also suspected to have committed suicide at his St Catherine home.

In celebration of International Day of Happiness on Monday, Choose Life International and the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange launched the ‘Shalom Project: Happiness in Schools’. It will train teachers and guidance counsellors in five transformational courses: the art and science of happiness, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, trauma intervention, and basic skills in counselling.

The launch of the programme was well received amid concerns about students’ deteriorating mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.