Dr. unveils teenage suicide stats, looks at solutions
It’s a staggering statistic, but nearly 40% of high school students in American Samoa make a plan to end their own life. One in four seriously considers it.
These numbers were revealed in 2011, when the Fesili Mai Partnership, a coalition of several social service organizations composed of community and government groups headed by Dr. Dianna Georgina of Georgia Gwinnett College in Atlanta, conducted a survey on island to understand why.
According to Dr. Georgina, “This is a difficult topic to discuss, but our research has undeniably confirmed that acknowledging the problem is essential to saving the lives of our young people.”
The survey, which was completely anonymous, and taken among high school students in Tutuila, rendered heartbreaking responses. One student wrote, “My mother used to scold me a lot and she would always beat me up. She treated me differently and so I decided to cut myself on the arms and neck, but they never noticed.”
The survey revealed that those who had considered, planned or attempted suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey did so because they were experiencing overwhelming stress, pressure at school and at home, depression, bullying at school, being unable to cope, and feeling alone with no one to just listen to them without judgment.
Their survey comments revealed their feelings clearly. “I was depressed; I would cry myself to sleep and cut myself. It felt wrong to be doing it but at the time I was doing it I felt nothing. Cutting myself makes the pain go away,” one student wrote.
Said Dr. Georgina, “We also asked students how we could help teens who consider suicide, and a large majority of them suggested programs in which they can talk to someone who will listen to them and give advice— without judgment and lecturing.”
“The easiest way to help young people is by letting them express their feelings — either by talking and sharing or by writing/jotting it down in a book or paper (like the idea in the movie ‘Freedom Writers’),” one student wrote, and added that relating and getting to know the victim also helps him or her share their thoughts. “When they feel important to others, they gain confidence and will most likely not endanger themselves.”
Another student, responding to the question about how to help said, “Well to me, the best way to deal with the situation is just hear them out, hear what they have to say. Some kids are hurt and no one listens to them.”
Still another suggested, “Make more programs and be more active in schools. You should also have more understanding people other than elders that just judge the kids when they're trying to open up.”
According to Dr. Georgina, the information obtained from this survey has revealed that American Samoan teens are experiencing stresses and pressures that did not exist to this degree for previous generations.
She told Samoa News, “Those surveys were totally anonymous, so the students could feel free to tell us the honest truth without repercussions. No one involved in the survey administration, data analysis, or any other part of the process has any idea which student wrote what. It was very important to us that they would be completely anonymous and would therefore feel no repercussions from anyone for their participation… it was completely voluntary.”
Faaalu Iuli, a coalition member and head of the American Samoa Alliance for Strengthening Families told Samoa News, “We all have the tools [to express ourselves], but we need to practice how to express our feelings and give ourselves 'permission' to do so. If we've not done this in our culture, it's not going to come naturally.
Iuli also said that participants in the survey did very well, and because it was distributed in English and Samoan, participants were able to verbalize on paper what they were really thinking and feeling.
Dr Georgina, who lived in American Samoa and worked for the Department of Human and Social Services in the early 1990s is now on island to discuss the results of this survey, and beginning today (Wednesday) she will be presenting to government and NGO representatives, facilitating community dialog on this research and providing community consultation at the Election Office conference room in Tafuna.
It is anticipated that local government and community organizations will participate in support of the Interagency Domestic Violence Community Planning Group activities for the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, held each year in October.
Parents and members of the community interested in learning more about this project may contact the American Samoa Alliance for Strengthening Families in Nuuuli at 699-0272 or 733-4334.
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