Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Today is the day" - then UWI student poisoned himself

...these are the warnings signs, and how to help

Suicide victim: Matthew Caesar

UWI engineering student Matthew Levi Caesar displayed no warning signs of a person with suicidal thoughts, said his relatives. But on the day he killed himself last Friday the troubled 24-year-old reached out with a heartbreaking series of messages on social media.

Caesar posted a message on social media  platform Twitter, which his friends and relatives now understand.

The message posted at 3.45pm read, “Today is the day”.


That same day, Caesar called close family friend Ramkishore Maharaj and thanked him for all he had done for him.

Maharaj said he had formed a close bond with Caesar who attended primary school with his daughter.

He introduced Caesar to the teachings of Paramanhansa Yogaananda when their conversations turned to the meaning of life. Paramanhansa Yogaananda was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation through his books.

Maharaj said he became concerned by Caesar's call and tried calling his cellphones several times that evening, but there was no answer.

Caesar also sent a “worrying message” to his friends and former classmates of Naparima Boys' College.

His friends immediately mounted a search, but it was too late. Caesar was found on the football field at the university.

Maharaj recalled the last message he sent to Caesar as he was being treated at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex at the weekend.

He told his former student that he loved him like a son and he was not angry, “well a bit, but not too much”.

Caesar responded, “Thanks for everything”.


 The death of 24-year-old Matthew Levi Caesar has touched the hearts of many who are now calling on Government to put proper systems in place to help suicidal persons.

Caesar, a mechanical engineering student at the University of the West indies, drank a poison last week Friday. He died three days later.

His relatives said Caesar called the suicide hotline desperate for help, but no one answered.

Dr Varma Deyalsingh, secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago, agreed that the system failed Caesar. But he noted that LifeLine was faced with severe resource constraints.

He said LifeLine was doing a “tremendous job” saving lives and helping people with little resources.

“A few years ago those bodies used to give a 24-hour service, but the funding does not come in. That is a challenge we face,” he said.

But there were other options, which many people may not be aware of, he said.

Dayalsingh said public health institutions were outfitted with a social services department. There, social workers are available to treat with suicidal cases.

However, the department of social services should be restructured and advertised properly to provide adequate counselling for persons in need.

“How many people would have these numbers in their head. So we have to have one particular number where you can call. If you not getting through to one system it goes to another system. The numbers should be all over the place, advertised all over. Recommendation was made recently that these numbers are posted on billboards, television, newspapers. The numbers need to be in people's face when they are driving or going about their business,” he said.

Deyalsingh said the Ministry of Social Development was working on evaluating the suicidal statistics in Trinidad and Tobago. He said the workshop was geared to finding a way to curb suicides and reach out to young people.

“If we can identify the issues earlier then we can probably start working on that. But you have to have systems in place and persons willing to assist because mental illness in Trinidad is stigmatised,” he said.


Warning signs

Deyalsingh said depression was the second highest cause of suicidal deaths among youths between ages 15 to 24.

And despite extensive studies and intensified psychotherapy, he said, “we seem to be losing the battle with this epidemic”.

But Deyalsingh advised that parents pay close attention to their children, as there were warning signs, some bold while others are more subtle.

The main sign, Deyalsingh said, was changes in the child's behavioural pattern.

He said simple things like changes in the child's sleeping or eating patterns should be cause for concern.

“Where the child is losing interest in everything around him in terms of what he likes. The child starts to have no motivation. Some children become irritable while others just go down into a shell and remain quiet. So you are looking at changes in these young children,” he said.

Deyalsingh said children may even say things which indicate they are suicidal.

“They telling people it was nice to know you or you were good to me. For instance, there was a child who when the father told the child goodnight, the child told the father goodbye. That child committed suicide that night.  Little warning signs, besides the general changes,” he said.

Dayalsingh said is a child says he/she was fed up of life and wanted to die it should be taken seriously.


But what help can society offer to young people with suicidal thoughts?

Deyalsingh said a child should have three persons he/she can turn to for help, in case the systems fail.

These persons can include a relative, religious leader, teacher, friend, counsellor or anyone with whom they were comfortable.

“We have to get that child some sort of help to talk. Some of them are deep thinkers and some of them may not be able to cope with school work, bullying in school, relationship problems. Those are the issues a lot of young people face. We need to get that person to talk, talk. The challenge is a lot of children would not want to come out and talk. The idea is to get that child to talk to a teacher, counsellor, and therapist. The talking is what is very important,” he said.

Deyalsingh said parents should be able to tell when the situation becomes unbearable and seek professional help for the child.

He said for a suicidal child any article in the house becomes a weapon to cause harm to themselves.

“Therefore, it is frightening to have someone like that in a home. The safest thing is to try to get that child under lock down, in an institution where that child can be monitored 24 hours by. It is the most painful thing for a parent trying to monitor a child, knowing any noise in the night can be that child dying. There has to be that place where we put people in where it is safe and clean,” he said.