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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Listening to the silence of suicide

The Deaf Ear Movement

Debbie Ishmael Baksh, left, Justin Michael Barker, Nuriyah Baksh, Sachelle Satnarine, Jonathan Howai and Cliff Seunarine.
Debbie Ishmael Baksh, left, Justin Michael Barker, Nuriyah Baksh, Sachelle Satnarine, Jonathan Howai and Cliff Seunarine.

On March 10, 2017, Matthew Caesar, 24, took his life. He was a mechanical engineering student at the University of the West Indies (UWI). His body was found on the university's football field.

The news of Caesar's death affected many of his friends, who wondered: why?

His friend Nuriyah Baksh, then an 18-year-old make-up artist from San Fernando, sensed something was wrong with Caesar. They used to speak frequently, but over time their conversations became less and less.

"At that point in time I was not fully aware of what mental health was," she said in a telephone interview. "We spoke quite often, but because I was so wrapped up in thinking it was something I did wrong, when he kept distancing himself from me, I saw that as maybe he did not want to talk to me. I did not think maybe something was wrong. I didn't think anything was wrong with him."

Baksh, now 20, took Caesar's death as a lesson in friendship and started to educate herself about mental health. She said Caesar's disengaging from their friendship taught her to listen to what was not being said.

Creators of the Deaf Ear Movement, Sachelle Satnarine,left, and Nuriyah Baksh.

"I knew he was stressing about school. He was working, and then he went back into that environment. That was a challenge.

"A lot of things go on in people's mind. Even if they are smiling, they could be dealing with a lot of difficulty.

"Support is one of the ways to deal with that. The goal, mission, is to create awareness of mental health and suicide by creating the most effective form of emotional and psychological support.

That year she, along with her friend Sachelle Satnarine, 20, started the Deaf Ear Movement – a group dedicated to mental health and suicide prevention. They founded the Deaf Ear Movement as a youth space because they wanted young people to feel connected and comfortable reaching out to someone their own age.

"Matthew's death made me more aware of mental health and when we need to listen to the silence. That is how we came up with the name Deaf Ear Movement.

Deputy Mayor of San Fernand Vidya Mungal-Bissessar indulges in hand painting at the Shooting on the bright side event at Nick's Restaurant, Erin Road.

"People may not be able to tell you what is wrong. If they don't want to speak to you, just ask them out for ice cream. They do not want to feel pressured, but if they are comfortable, they will come out and tell you what's wrong. Sometimes they just want to know you are there. They want to feel supported and loved, and as a friend you can listen – but," she warned, "you cannot give them the professional help they would need. But you can encourage them to go talk to a professional."

In April 2017 the Deaf Ear Movement held an informative event called Our Story Begins at the Harris Promenade, San Fernando. Members handed out flyers and performed spoken-word pieces in an attempt to educate people about mental health.

The second event, Unwritten, was in April 2018 at Presentation College, San Fernando, to raise awareness of the connection between physical and mental health.

"We called it Unwritten because you are in charge of your own story. You could change it. Just because it started off in a bad way – you could change it. You don't have to put full stops, you can put semicolons and continue.

Renee from Anugraha Yoga doing chair yoga.

"That event had zumba, spoken word, poetry, make up sessions because when you look good you feel good," she said.

There were also adult colouring tables, massages and a kiddies' paint table, all of which Baksh said are forms of releasing stress and self-expression.

The Deaf Ear Movement aims to hold an event every April to discuss mental health issues.

On April 7 this year, the Deaf Ear Movement went to Nick's Restaurant, Erin Road, Debe, for its third event – Sitting on the Bright Side.

"We try to focus on the positive light side of this. When things get too heavy it is hard for people to soak it in," Baksh said.

At that event, Carl Ryan, a mental health consultant, spoke about what mental disorders are and different tips to cope. Mental health advocate and writer Caroline Ravello gave insight into her story and how she copes with depression.

Fiona Greensides doing Zumba at the Deaf Ear Movement's Shooting on the bright side event at Nick's Restaurant, Erin Road, Debe.

"She told us it is okay to have bad days. She has depression, and she showed us how to look at the holistic approach to the perilous issues associated with unacknowledged mental health issues," Baksh said.

She and Satnarine fund most of their programmes themselves, while depending on the kindness of donors to execute their project. People would donate food and T-shirts, and this year, Nick's Restaurant allowed them to use the venue for free.

They are currently working on partnering with Ryan to do more events and connect with more mental health professionals.

"We are growing and have a lot to learn. Through Carl Ryan we talked about doing a collaboration. We still have to discuss it."

Baksh and Satnarine are working towards making the Deaf Ear Movement a registered non-government organisation (NGO) so it can collaborate with other NGOs.

"A holistic approach, we believe, can prove to be effective in taking the Deaf Ear Movement closer to its vision to becoming a leading NGO in both psychological and emotional support...We want to partner with other NGOs who are in the same field. In numbers we are stronger and can get to reach people," she said.

Anyone who may need someone to talk to or have thoughts of taking their life can contact Lifeline at 645-2800.

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