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If you see something do something: Counseling Save Lives

By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice (TCV)

Forty-eight years old, Shamwatie Loutan, a Guyanese American woman living in New York City, took her life recently following a period of depression. According to a report in the New York Daily News, the mother of three, who had been awaiting the final decree in a divorce from her husband of more than 20 years, set herself ablaze in the backyard of her Rosedale home. First responders pronounced her dead at the scene.

One daughter, as well as a neighbour, indicated that Loutan began displaying signs of depression, as the divorce progressed. The daughter is also quoted as saying, “It was just out of nowhere”. Really?

The Daily News also stated that a man coming out of Loutan’s former home confirmed that “she was depressed” while a cousin said: “We have no idea what caused this.”

Again, we ask?” That a number of persons recognized growing signs of depression begs the question: Did they not know that unless urgently addressed, depression can and usually does lead to suicide?”

In fact, research clearly shows that depression is one of two mental illnesses that lead to suicide, the other being anxiety. Even if they did not know that, surely, they would have known that depression can be addressed through counselling. Research indicates that counseling for both depression and anxiety generally prevents suicide. In fact, several studies have shown that counseling is generally effective.

According to Shannon Sumrall in ‘Counseling Effectiveness’,  “high success rates appear in a meta-analysis of the literature” on counseling effectiveness. She added, “the vast majority of the research, when examined as a whole, seem to indicate very positive outcomes for counseling”.

As well, counseling is covered by most insurance and requires only the same co-pay paid for any other medical issue. All it would take therefore is for someone to make a call.

So, here’s the deal: If you see something, do something.

Take action and save a life rather than lament that the person was depressed after the person has killed him/herself. In effect, suicide prevention is not only everybody’s business but it is a proactive endeavor whereby one must act as soon as one suspects depression or suicidal intent. As the old saying goes, ‘it’s better to be safe than to be sorry’. Besides, you must do for someone else what you would want someone to do for you.

Yes, counseling saves lives, but counseling must only be done by trained professionals. If you are not a trained counselor (with at least a master’s degree and clinical training) please do not attempt to counsel.

We know of persons who claim to be counselors because they, themselves were counseled at one time. That would be like someone sitting in a courtroom listening to a few cases then claiming to be a lawyer or someone who, after witnessing a doctor at work, concludes that he or she has become a doctor. A lawyer, a doctor or a counselor must have requisite professional qualifications and in the case of counselors, supervised clinical experience, before practicing on his or her own.

The Caribbean Voice has seen first-hand the fatal results of someone attempting counseling without requisite training. The latest was the case of a young lady in Guyana, who killed herself after her father paid a quack counselor to counsel her because she was suicidal.

We have also had many, many experiences, whereby people would say, ‘I talk to him/her but he/she does not listen to me’. Such persons may be well-meaning and out of love and concern believe that once they talk to a depressed or suicidal person everything would be ok. But it would not be, because they don’t have the tools with which to communicate and, in fact, their ‘talk’ could well make matters worse. We don’t know if anyone attempted to talk to Shamwatie Loutan but that could well be possible. And if that did happen, we have now seen the fatal result.

The Caribbean Voice is aware that a traditional taboo against counseling exists in the Caribbean, to a greater or lesser degree, with some feeling that ‘only mad people need counseling’. But we have seen, time and again, that depressed individuals, from all walks of life, who fail to seek counseling, end-up dying by suicide. Even in our own experiences every one of almost 500 cases we have handled so far, have been successful, while several cases, of which we are aware, that did not get counseled, ended-up as suicide fatalities. Yes, suicide is a killer just like any other fatal disease.

Most Caribbean nations have suicide helplines or hotlines.

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