President of BAGC, Margaret Grant, addressing the symposium at the Savannah Hotel.

This school year alone, there were 93 cases of persons harming themselves in 15 of the island’s 26 secondary schools.

This was revealed today by President of the Barbados Association of Guidance Counsellors (BAGC), Margaret Grant, as she addressed the opening of a symposium Self-Harming Behaviours Among Teenagers, jointly-held by that organisation and the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, at the Savannah Hotel.

Pointing out that "six of these cases were boys as junior as first form and as senior as fifth form", Ms. Grant?? said: "These figures only represent a sample of the cases which exist, since reports have not been received from five schools and furthermore, there may be several other cases which counsellors are not aware of."

According to her, in the six remaining schools, guidance counsellors indicated that they had received no reports of cases of self-harming.

The President noted that, in previous years, these behaviours were associated with those who claimed to be ???emos’ in Europe and North America but were now being embraced "by some of our very own".

Participants, largely made up of principals, teachers and counsellors heard too that the areas of the body most targeted for self-cutting by students were the inner forearm, thigh/leg, face, forehead, neck, chest (under the breasts), stomach, head and?? shoulder. And, it was noted that methods used were cutting, burning and tablet overdose, while objects included razors, the blade from sharpeners, compass and dividers from geometry sets, pins, hairpins, needles, scissors, long sharp fingernails and matches.

Ms. Grant also revealed that an attempt made by a student to use a rope had been intercepted.

The reasons given for such behaviours, she explained,?? included but were not limited to: domestic problems, alcoholism in the family and its accompanying challenges; frustration; anger; need for attention; rejection by girlfriend; buggery; abuse whether physical, sexual or verbal; identification as part of an ???emo’ group; ??lesbianism; curiosity; male relationship with parents; need to fit in with others; mixed reasons; bullying – name calling and teasing; poor self-esteem; and dysfunctional families – separation of parents.

She stressed: "This is a cry for help for our children in our schools. Many of them do not know what it means to have positive peer relationships, a family support system or a solid spiritual connection and relationship with God. Truth be told, many of our teenagers’ lives are a constant struggle, hence, without the foregoing they resort to measures which are self destructive.

"To many, life offers no hope, they partake of a daily portion of pain and sorrow seasoned with hopelessness and despair and they become filled with the desire of not wanting to see another day because, for them every day is night. ??To many, therefore, self-injury is a coping mechanism. To ask them to give up their coping strategy rarely works and in fact can lead to more dangerous behaviours."

Ms. Grant suggested that a multi-disciplinary treatment plan was needed which would use individual, group and family therapies to support and empower individuals to make healthier choices when dealing with emotional distress.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Education Officer, Joy Gittens, supported the call for a collective response.?? She said: "All of us are in it. No longer can we say, oh the child just needs two hard slaps and they will change… it is a reality. Our children can turn on all of the media now and they can find ways to commit suicide…to become an anorexic… to make a bomb if they want to blow up the school at the click of a button and they don’t have to go to a computer any more…You see these things called Blackberry; they are in their hands. They have them and we have to wake up and realise that this is a reality."

Urging counsellors to "open their eyes, ears and hearts" to the information being shared, Ms. Gittens said: "Don’t say it is not happening in my school, because it might."?? Guidance Counsellors were also urged to argue their case for more assistance; and to lobby to become public servants rather than counsellors who still had to perform teaching duties. While recognising that some schools had two guidance counsellors, she pointed out: "Some other schools have been arguing we have to increase their load. We may have to look at extending the number of posts in our schools for Guidance Counsellors, but if you are categorised as a teacher you have to teach."


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