Police are investigating the apparent suicide of 12-year-old Shemar Weekes of Fryers Well, Checker Hall, St Lucy. The student of the Coleridge & Parry School in Ashton Hall, St Peter was reportedly found last night hanging in the yard at his home, which he shares with his seven-year-old bother and his mother Julieanne. via http://www.barbadostoday.bb/2015/05/15/update-student-found-hanging-at-his-home/
We are all speechless at the receipt of this news. As adults we experience the hardships of adult life and some of us have survived unspoken hardships as children. We have marveled at our own will power the many times we never gave up when we felt our burdens were too heavy. We have testified to the resilience of children who are the very reason we enjoy each other’s company: children are our future. We have shared a common journey through past, present and a future that meets us second after second, childhood into adult. We are collectively saddened and at the same time outraged when one of our young comrades falls by the hands of violence.
We are confused and silenced when death comes to us, as a child among us decides it is better to die than to live another day into the future. We wonder what could make the future seem so depressing to one so young. We search for someone to blame. We remember the good times because the “bad news” about the mental pain a child suffered through is too much to bear and so we must dissociate. We look for the warning signs in fear of another child meeting their destiny by suicide. We grieve. We are traumatized. We bury our beloved child. We tell ourselves: we must move forward.
But let us not forget the message Shemar Weekes engraved into our hearts and minds upon his last stand among the living. As we return to normalcy let us remember him as the transforming energy he released upon the wind. Can you feel it in the air? The winds of change. We must listen to every cry for help in the whispers of every falling leaf which is the only sign we see of the wind’s invisibility. In this wind lives Shemar‘s spirit and every child breathing in Barbados will exhale his life’s truth: NO ONE HEARD ME. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
Husbands recalled that he had threatened on several occasions in the past that “he would hurt himself” but she said neither she nor her brother believed him. Still, Husbands did not think that he would ever take his own life, even with the problems she knew he was facing at home. Recently, she said, Shemar had complained to her that he was hungry, which led her to share her food with him.
Warning Signs of Youth Suicide
- Suicide notes. These are a very real sign of danger and should be taken seriously.
- Threats. Threats may be direct (“I want to die.” “I am going to kill myself”) or, unfortunately, indirect (“The world would be better without me,” “Nobody will miss me anyway”). In adolescence, indirect clues could be offered through joking or through references in school assignments, particularly creative writing or art pieces. Young children and those who view the world in more concrete terms may not be able to express their feelings in words, but may provide indirect clues in the form of acting-out, violent behavior, often accompanied by suicidal/homicidal threats.
- Previous attempts. Often the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, which can indicate a coping style.
- Depression (helplessness/hopelessness). When symptoms of depression include pervasive thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness, a child or adolescent is conceivably at greater risk for suicide.
- Masked depression. Risk-taking behaviors can include acts of aggression, gunplay, and alcohol/substance abuse.
- Final arrangements. This behavior may take many forms. In adolescents, it might be giving away prized possessions such as jewelry, clothing, journals or pictures.
- Efforts to hurt oneself. Self-mutilating behaviors occur among children as young as elementary school-age. Common self-destructive behaviors include running into traffic, jumping from heights, and scratching/cutting/marking the body.
- Inability to concentrate or think rationally. Such problems may be reflected in children’s classroom behavior, homework habits, academic performance, household chores, even conversation.
- Changes in physical habits and appearance. Changes include inability to sleep or sleeping all the time, sudden weight gain or loss, disinterest in appearance, hygiene, etc.
- Sudden changes in personality, friends, behaviors. Parents, teachers and peers are often the best observers of sudden changes in suicidal students. Changes can include withdrawing from normal relationships, increased absenteeism in school, loss of involvement in regular interests or activities, and social withdrawal and isolation.
- Death and suicidal themes. These might appear in classroom drawings, work samples, journals or homework.
- Plan/method/access. A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased focus on guns and other weapons, increased access to guns, pills, etc., and/or may talk about or allude to a suicide plan. The greater the planning, the greater the potential.
Tips for Parents
- Know the warning signs!
- Do not be afraid to talk to your child. Talking to your children about suicide will not put thoughts into their head. In fact, all available evidence indicates that talking to your child lowers the risk of suicide. The message is, “Suicide is not an option, help is available.”
- Suicide-proof your home. Make the knives, pills and, above all, the firearms inaccessible.
- Utilize school and community resources. This can include your school psychologist, crisis intervention personnel, suicide prevention groups or hotlines, or private mental health professionals.
- Take immediate action. If your child indicates he/she is contemplating suicide, or if your gut instinct tells you they might hurt themselves, get help. Do not leave your child alone. Even if he denies “meaning it,” stay with him. Reassure him. Seek professional help. If necessary, drive your child to the hospital’s emergency room to ensure that she is in a safe environment until a psychiatric evaluation can be completed.
- Listen to your child’s friends. They may give hints that they are worried about their friend but be uncomfortable telling you directly. Be open. Ask questions.
Tips for Teachers
- Know the warning signs!
- Know the school’s responsibilities. Schools have been held liable in the courts for not warning the parents in a timely fashion or adequately supervising the suicidal student.
- Encourage students to confide in you. Let students know that you are there to help, that you care. Encourage them to come to you if they or someone they know is considering suicide.
- Refer student immediately. Do not “send” a student to the school psychologist or counselor. Escort the child yourself to a member of the school’s crisis team. If a team has not been identified, notify the principal, psychologist, counselor, nurse or social worker. (And as soon as possible, request that your school organize a crisis team!)
- Join the crisis team. You have valuable information to contribute so that the school crisis team can make an accurate assessment of risk.
- Advocate for the child. Sometimes administrators may minimize risk factors and warning signs in a particular student. Advocate for the child until you are certain the child is safe.