DR CRYSTAL BENJAMIN and MAURISKA THOMAS
The covid19 pandemic has entered and upended most of our lives, forcing us to adjust to the new normal. But this ability to adjust has not been as simple for some as it has been for others. With restrictions placed on co-curricular activities, in-person communication and events for socialisation, many individuals have fallen into a place where things seem dark and dismal. This is especially true for children as they manoeuvre social media and general daily life, which both present their own challenges.
It is becoming more common to hear about children participating in acts of suicide or attempted suicide. This can be attributed to the increased use of social media, as people now communicate virtually for almost everything – work, school, to keep in touch with family or as a form of entertainment. This increase in online usage has caused children to gravitate to using apps like Tik Tok for entertainment. Here, challenges are issued on a daily basis and have become the new internet sensation. Some very alarming challenges have surfaced, specifically the blackout challenge, which requires its participants to test how long they can stop breathing before they pass out. They are also encouraged to better their time each time. This is where the danger comes in, as participants are encouraged to use items like socks, ropes, belts and other choke-inducing items to make them lose consciousness faster. This is just as dangerous as its closely-related challenge, the pass out challenge, for which participants are encouraged to shake their heads as fast as they can till they pass out.
We often think that these are far-fetched incidences and will not happen to our children, but just recently, Emmanuel Poteon, a nine-year-old boy from Maloney Gardens was victim to this challenge. His body was found with a belt around his neck and his phone close by two hours after he went missing. Apart from exposing teens to undesirable challenges, social media is also a breeding ground for cyberbullying, viewing unrealistic standards of beauty and a wave of negative news. This can lead to the teens internalising that things may be wrong with them or with the world. This does not negate the fact that social media has many positives, such as news in real time and memes that can help to lighten days.
Research has shown that the cases of accidental suicide have increased during this time of the pandemic. According to a December 2020 report titled Suicide Ideation and Attempts in a Pediatric Emergency Department Before and During Covid19, more cases of suicidal behaviour were reported when measures put in place to safeguard individuals from contracting the virus were intensified in the initial stages. It showed that teens have been largely impacted by the changes they have had to make since the pandemic began.
For many students school had been a refuge from issues at home, such as domestic violence, abuse, alcohol and substance abuse and mental illness along with many other factors. The pandemic has caused the closure of schools, removing the support system many children would have been able to access there. In some cases, though services like counselling have moved online, the ease of access like walking into a counsellor's room and starting a face-to-face conversation is not there. The effort of having to write an email and wait for a response can be daunting when you do not know how to put your feelings into words. Thus, for some people, although the service is available, it is still not available. Though social media is not solely to blame for the increase in paediatric suicide, it is important that guardians and care givers know the facts related to the situation and are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with it should it arise.
What we need to understand
• Being suicidal has no specific look and can easily go undetected
• One does not need to have a history of mental illness or suicide attempts to be suicidal
What can be done in the interim to protect children
• Develop and maintain open and honest conversations with your children and the children in your care
• Engage them in positive activities
• Show your support to them and their healthy interests
What is the take away?
Parents and guardians, in this unprecedented time in which we live, it is imperative that you keep a close eye on your charges. From the daily exposure to the dark antics of the World Wide Web to the stress that comes along with having to manoeuvre this pandemic, can cause children and teenagers to exhibit strange behaviours as they cope. Your continued guidance and openness to steer them in the right direction is needed. In addition, in cases where you are unsure of the actions to take, there are resources available at your fingertips so you do not need to not feel despair or dismayed. In case you encounter a suicide attempt or high-risk person, dial 211 and you will be directed to an organisation that can offer help.
Dr Crystal Benjamin and Mauriska Thomas form part of the Enriched Life Limited team. At Enriched Life Limited, clients can access counselling and coaching services for individuals, couples, and organisations.
Email address – email@example.com
Phone – (868) 757 – 9963
Website – www.enrichedlifeltd.com