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Lifeline – there, to listen

CN contributor Klysha Best concludes her interview with Chair and volunteer listener with Lifeline TT, Lucretia Gabriel. Part 1 appeared in the September 24 issue.

If you are distressed and need someone to listen to, you can contact Lifeline at 800-5588 or 866-5433.

As it stands now, Lifeline serves approximately 30 calls per day. Most of the callers are under 40 years old. There are also minors calling the helpline.

Gabriel said, “We have one or two children between the ages of 10–14 years, who appear in our suicide statistics. The highest rate of suicide comes from those between the ages of 15 to 29.”

“One of our major fundraising thrusts is to have July/August camps, because we have realised during those six weeks when school is closed, children are most at risk.

“You see the simple thing when they go to school, they get breakfast and lunch. That’s why some parents send their children to school, because at least they will get fed for the day. During the July to August vacation, many do not get two meals a day. So, when you’re talking about what the Church could do, consider that. And when you have camps, an essential element in that camp is that when they come in the morning, they get food, they get lunch and if you don’t arrive before a certain hour, you’re not getting on the food list. So, you get there. And in getting there, it keeps them safe and whatever gaps there are in their attainment for that level, you take care of it, you keep them going, but you keep them fed.”

Gabriel said people may ask why call Lifeline and not speak to a family or friend. However, she pointed out that most have issues with their families, and another family member may not be the right person to be that objective.

Gabriel said personal relations, family, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, partner, financial matters continue to be the trending issues affecting individuals.

She said Lifeline is there to listen and not judge.

“You let the person talk and you listen. You do not judge, et cetera. You create a safe place. You listen until the person feels that they’re fine and that feeling may not last. It comes and goes. So, you support the person through the process.”

She said these people will need professional help and Lifeline actively encourages it. “When we started in ‘78 and up to the last five years, you couldn’t dare suggest to anybody that you actively believe they need the help of a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They’d slam the phone down on you, if not cuss you out. But now people call in and say, ‘I wish to speak to a counsellor’.”

There is the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists, and the government has been extremely good at setting up psychologists and counsellors in the clinics throughout the country.

“There are also the major hospitals. For example, Mount Hope has a 24-hour mental health clinic. You can walk in at any time.”


The religious aspect

Gabriel said as Catholics, the Church and its faithful can be insensitive. “It is insensitive to say to somebody, ‘well, if you’re a Christian, Christ is the answer, and you shouldn’t have those problems.’

“Do not start to talk about God. You have to create a space in which Catholics will meet their God. Space in which that spirit that is imminent in human beings can surface. That is what you have to be able to do, so that they will know that it is not about all the moral things. …You have to help them understand that whatever you have done wrong, or are doing, He loves you. You sit down and you talk to God.”

“The definition of prayer is a heart-to-heart talk with God. So, you are having these thoughts, you sit down, and you talk to Him. And if you want to call, scream, whatever, bring Him into your comments and let Him be not the God of the Bible, but your personal God and you should have a personal relationship.”

Gabriel said she’s not a fan of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), as suicide must be an ongoing concern.


Suicidal signs

So, are there signs that friends and family should look out for?

Gabriel said the person who’s highly suicidal will hide it from you.

“They  put on their best face. That’s why when I am asked who is the most suicidal person you know, I would say the heart and soul of the party, the person who’s always helping everybody else and they never have a problem in the world. That is the person.”

Warning signs include:

Physical – may include changes in sleep patterns, appetite and weight, energy level, and appearance, as well as unexplained aches, pains, or injuries.

Behavioural – include expressions of hopelessness or despair, withdrawal from social activities, giving away possessions, reckless or impulsive behaviour, and increased alcohol or drug use.

Conversational – include direct or indirect expressions of suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, a preoccupation with death, and a sense of being trapped or in unbearable pain.