How can anyone know for sure when a loved one might be serious about taking his own life?
The ability to discern the emotions, thoughts and pain of others, what is known in the world of psychology as Theory of Mind (ToM), is perhaps the obvious or given means through which a mother, let’s say, would be able to tell if her child were suicidal. Certainly, for many who have lost relatives or friends to suicide, the signs are only noted in hindsight, after the person has already passed.
For Sheryl Baker, this was her nightmare when her 12 year-old son, her ‘wash belly’, hung himself in the bathroom at home, last July. He didn’t show any signs, she said, but looking back now, they were written all over.
“I can remember one day him come to me and him say ‘mommy, you know I mad; mi mad enuh. Carry me a Bellevue’, but I didn’t really take it for anything. One day I talked to him rough and him come to me and him say, ‘Mommy I going to hang myself’. And I say to him why you going to hang yourself for? But I wasn’t taking it as anything because I remember when I was small I told my mother that I was going to hang myself, so I wasn’t taking it for anything when my child told me that”.
The bereaved mother shared that she had a close bond with her son, and after his pronouncements, she always tried to keep a close eye on him.
“He was a little boy like this, I was very close to him. When night-time and I done do my chores, I sit in the chair and him will come and lie down in my lap, and mi will say to him ‘you alright?’, and him say ‘yes mommy’. But from that day him tell mi he was going to kill himself, I don’t like have him out of my sight. When him at school, and I go to town, I make sure I’m there before he reach home, because mi realise when him come home and see mommy him happy.
But on the day in question, Sheryl recounted that she was the one anxious to get home to her son. She recalled that she had just bought him a smart phone, a gift she had promised him a year earlier after he had done GSAT, and expected to find him at home engrossed in his new device. That unfortunately was not the case.
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“I went to the doctor around 8:30 am, and I didn’t come home till roughly after 6. I don’t know what happened that day, but I just force and go straight to Drug Serv. Normally I would just drop off, and collect the next day. And is di one likkle day when I was out, so it come like I feel guilty about it, because mi know mi nuh normally leave him one whole day. It end up that the day I come from Drug Serv now, mi expect to see him inna di house, because mi know mi buy him phone. Nobody nuh supposed to trouble him, because him get him phone so him happy”.
Except that he wasn’t really happy, and the root of his unhappiness, or what was later found to be depression, Sheryl linked back to the tragic loss of an older son.
“I don’t really understand what really go on but that day he was having problems at school, based on what they were telling me; that he was a depressed child for a very long time because, I lost a big son, age 21, who passed eight years ago, and he was five plus at the time, and I remember that he dialled 119 and I went inside and heard him say, ‘police weh yuh kill mi bredda fah, weh yuh shoot mi bredda fah?’, But I didn’t realise I should have got counselling for him. So it seems like he was going through depression from that for a long time as a baby, which I didn’t understand the signs of depression”.
After taking her son to the doctor for pain he had been feeling in his thigh for a prolonged period, Sheryl said she was eventually referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her son with depression.
“When he reached in grade 2, I realised he start feeling pain in his thigh. Had him at the hospital for three to four years doing tests — nobody can’t find out what happen to him. Dem time I didn’t know it was depression pain he was developing. Is one doctor I take him to, a year before him pass off, that doctor is the one who refer me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist had him for four months and put him on some medication.”
Having since done her own research on the signs of depression, Sheryl explained that her son had very much fit the bill.
“Reading up on depression, it show [me] dat food that he used to love, he didn’t like it anymore. He wasn’t a child that keep friends, he was always by himself. All he wanted was his tablet, computer and whatsoever. So one day him turn to me and say mommy mi nuh like nobody. All you do, lock mi up inna one room by myself and get mi tablet, computer, and a phone.” But back to the day in question, instead of being in his room occupied with his new phone, Sheryl’s son was hanging by a sheet in the bathroom. She recalled her disbelief, hoping he might have been pulling a sick prank.
“I scream out [and] I grab him up and lift him up, because I think is fake him was faking it. I couldn’t believe that he really died. So, I say call di police, and dem call di police. [Took him to the hospital], hoping dat di doctors could try a ting, but he didn’t make it”.
Wrestling now with what-if’s, having come to some clarity about why her son was a victim of suicide, Sheryl admitted that these days she struggles with the mundane.
“I’m mostly not interested in cooking anymore. Sometimes when I see other kids coming from school…,” she trailed off. “Last week his father asked [me] to press a shirt for him and I never interested fi press di shirt, ’cause it come like each time mi tek up di ironing board mi remember I used to press his uniform.”
Sheryl’s son, Jahmoi Wilson, seemed to have been a budding thinker, penning the words of advice his mother concluded with.
“To other mothers, I would like to say to them look out for signs, and don’t call dem names. Dem don’t like when you call dem names. Many of the kids dem nowadays if you even say simple likkle sumn to dem, dem vex. Cause him leave couple notes enuh, and what he said was, ‘you can throw a simple pin or a stone in the sea’, and him ask di question in di book dat him write in before him pass off, ‘do you know how far that stone can