Let us Talk About Suicide Prevention In Diaspora
Heightened Concern over the rise in the number of cases of young Kenyan adults dying in the United States. One young person dying because of a preventable cause is one too many.It is time to talk about suicide in Diaspora.
Disclaimer-This article deals with a serious and sensitive subject, suicide. It is meant for the community of faith in Diaspora and at large. Because of the stigma attached to suicide, it is sometimes referred to as a negative death. Not that there is such a thing as positive death. To surviving family members death causes pain and evokes deep sorrow. Although death is the only gateway to eternal life, we view it as a jealousy lover because it takes away loved ones. Someone wishing to comfort a family may make attempts to highlight the positive aspects of it by quoting, “Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work out together for good…”Wait a minute! Do they? While growing up with my sisters, we used to sing a chorus we had learned in Sunday School, “I want to see my Savior when I died X 2, Good bye when I die.” But even as young as we were, we knew that we wanted to have a future. We always changed the song when it was time to sing the second line we finished it, “Good bye when I die, but not today.” I am writing this article out of work experience. For a combined total of 10 years I taught Prevention Curriculum for K-12 in the public school system and prior to that in an out-patient mental health clinic for Child/Adolescents and their families. It is important for me to emphasize here that Suicide is preventable. The focus of this article is suicide among young people (premature deaths of young adults in Diaspora).
Coming To America: I am writing to you out of my heart because there is a heightened concern over the rise in the number of cases of young adults dying here in the United States. My concern is that 1 young person dying because of a preventable cause is one too many. We came here to get a better life, not a bleak future without hope or encouragement. We have shared with our children countless times, Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans of good and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Yet it has happened again and again, year after year. We cannot afford to remain quiet anymore. We can use the collective education we have acquired to help young people. We will continue to pray for the children but we also need to do more! 2 Chronicles 7:14 King James Version (KJV) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (KJV). As long as we are here, we can say this too is our land because our children are growing up here. I like to call them, “Joshua Generation” because many of them do not have plans to return to Africa. They have plans to visit during their vacations, or I have heard many say, “My wedding will be in Africa.” They do not know another place to call home. Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica or Barbados – that is where your home is. They call USA my home, my country. Let us put our prayers to action.
To begin to understand what is happening, I will attempt to answer 5 questions: (1) What is Suicide?
(2) Who can diagnose mental health disorders and who can make referrals? (3) Who is at risk? (GA Statistics), (4) What are the warning signs? (5) What can we do as a community? Also I want to encourage you to find out information that is available in your community. My writing on a rather sensitive subject is meant to provoke some action in the community of faith.
We can now talk about it – Suicide is Preventable
(1) What is Suicide? Suicide (Latin suicidium, from sui caedere, “to kill oneself”) is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Suicide is often carried out as a result of despair, the cause of which is frequently attributed to a mental disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, alcoholism, or drug abuse” (Online Dictionary/10/19/2014). My simple definition that I wish for us to adopt is that suicide is solving a temporary problem with a permanent solution.
(2) Who is at Risk? (GA) Statistics: Please go Online and find out statistics about your state of residence. In GA/Suicide is the 2nd Leading cause of death in adults ages 25-34; 3rd in 15-24 age group; 4th in ages 10-14; 35-44 and 45-54.” As bleak as statistics look, there is hope and there is help. Suicide is preventable. In the State of Georgia, help is available 24/7 for 365 days. If you have problems with mental health call 911, Report to the nearest emergency, or call GA Crisis and Access Line/1-800-715-4255.
The National Hotline or Lifeline for Suicide Prevention is: 1-800-273-Talk (8255). You will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center near your area, anytime 24/7 (from www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).
(3) Who can Diagnose Mental Health Disorders and write a referral for get help? A medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist can diagnose mental health disorders. If you have health insurance, you may already be assigned a mental health provider for you and your family. Find out who that provider is and keep their contact numbers. Referrals: School counselors from K-12 as well as in Colleges and Universities, health providers, individual can self refer, parents, friends. Also most ordained ministers and priests can give you a referral to get help, but basically anyone concerned can help. Think of your actions as throwing a rope to someone who is drowning to save them. Of course to Christians, Pastors, Parents, ministers and community leaders, prayer is the first response. However, know when treatment is necessary and when a person needs a level of care that you are not skilled nor trained to provide. I remember a slogan in Kenya that reads, Doctors treat, God heals. There is a thin line between spirits that make people ill (demons) and mental illness like Schizophrenia. If you do not know where that line is, it is better to let doctors treat. If your faith tells you otherwise, we have trained professionals in the community who might help in decision making, like when to seek treatment for illness.
(4) What are the warning signs? They include, but are not limited to history of suicidal thoughts and attempts, talking about ending life, writing, posting on social media, searching online about obtaining and keeping weapons to self destruct (see list of mental health disorders in the definition). Feelings may include, but not limited to hopelessness, helplessness, lose of interest in activities once enjoyed, feels isolated, like nobody cares or understands, no one will listen. Closer to the time when a person has decided to end their life they may start withdrawing from family and friends, give away personal belongings, engage in careless and reckless behavior and some might write a farewell note. For me the most convincing warning sign is when a person reports that they want to die. Children and youth do not call attention to themselves by saying they want to die. In most cases, those who completed suicide had given a warning sign that was overlooked, or thought off as a negative attention getter. Therefore, take threats of suicide seriously. It is better to be wrong than to be sorry.
Other issues that might affect young adults include boyfriend or girlfriend issues, recently lost a parent or sibling in the last 6 -12 months; trouble with the law especially getting close to court date – and parents are the last to know. When young adults go off to College/University, just like parents do not receive that Grade Report card, due to confidentiality issues, as a policy they will not be informed by college administration when their son or daughter is in trouble with the law. Also they may not know when their son or daughter is diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It is the responsibility of the young adult to let their parent(s) know. . Additional areas of concern are failing grades, getting pregnant or when a young man has put a girl in the family way. Both may feel trapped. Threats of deportation by ICE or parents who threaten to return a rebellious youth back to Africa. There can be many feelings, behaviors and reasons why a person may wish to end their life. If such issues last for more than 2 weeks without a person getting better, the best thing to do is to keep young people informed of available resources, and to encourage them to seek help early. Again if you or someone you know threatens, talks, plans , and disclosed that they wish to die, help them make that call.
(5) What can we do as a community?. When you know there is a threat for suicide, remove all weapons from the access of the individual. When asked how they wish to end their lives, many will tell you their preferred method, and if they have a plan. This may sound scary but in a clinical setting as part of assessing threat for suicide, I asked a young man, “Do you have a plan to end your life?” His reply shocked me. He was quiet for a while. He smiled and looked at me. “That’s the only thing I don’t have. Do I need a plan…?” Of course my answer was no you do not need such a plan. A better question would be, can you tell me what you would like to do this weekend?” If you know a youth/young adult who is having tough life issues, instead of in-depth questioning, encourage and persuade them to get help first and ask questions later.
Family and friends: Keep lines of communication open with young adults and their friends. Know your son’s or daughter’s friends. Young people talk to each other and seem to know when things are bad or when they go wrong. They might want to help, but don’t know how. This is where the community need to step in. Young adults may not talk to you just like you did not talk to your parent(s) about your issues and intimate details about your life. You talked to your friends. A lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same.
Planned Community forums by young adults with community’s help Wacha wasikike- let them be heard. We need to create a safe environment for them to disclose and discuss their issues without feeling condemned. Also invite them to your planning sessions so that they can bring to the table issues of concern to them. Empower young people to reach their friends and peers.
Lifeline Posters with Prevention Information: Hang posters with suicide prevention information everywhere young adults frequent, including Sunday School classes, and Church gym. No Church Bulletin Board should be without a Crisis/Access number to call for help in addition to 911. In our gatherings I urge counselors, teachers and health care providers not to hoard information. Share information that can help parents help young people. If you can be available when called. For the home, get those magnets with Access/crisis line from your local health department or school and keep one on your refrigerator. Even those who have an empty nest, can use the information to help others in times of need.
Social Media/Technology: While writing this article I have learned there are Safety Teams for Suicide Prevention on Social Media Sites- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr (see web site for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for more information). There may be apps that can be helpful. May be Diaspora community can have a text message created like the Commercial Mobile Alert System for Emergency situations. The alert would have helpful information for young people who are experiencing difficulties.
Talking about suicide will take more time to get further, for example creating a safety plan, assessment, etc., I believe what I have shared will help in some way. We may be digital immigrants trying to help digital natives, but I know we are well able and can do more to help. We have these smarts pones and can access information using technology in our hand. Let us use everything we have to combat this monster. No one needs to terminate their own life when help is available. We can do it – It is possible! Let us talk about it, but let us encourage one another. There is help and there is hope-share this information with others.
There is hope and healing for families. If you or someone you know has lost a child through suicide or other circumstances, become an encourager. Affirm, and support families with Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Access counseling resources and support group near you/www.griefshare.org. And for parents who have lost a child of any age/www.compassionatefirends.org
By Rev. Wambui Njoroge, M. Sci.
Rev. Wambui Njoroge/Ministers the Word & Facilitates Family Life Education Programs Across Developmental Phases with Triumph Christian Ministries, Inc. She is also a Co-founder of www.marriagedynamicsnationalforum.org; and is Chairlady/KCFA Southern GA Chapter. New Kenyan Hobby/Recreational Talking & A Cup of Kenya Tea.
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Tcmi/wn/October 23, 2014©