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School bus drivers trained for suicide watch

Monday 14 September 2015 | Published in Regional


Guam gives bus drivers skills to counsel students while Fiji’s PM declares youth suicide a crisis

HAGATNA– Bus drivers have been trained in the US territory Guam to identify children showing signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.

The move is aimed at fighting high rates of suicide among teenagers and young adults.

Nicole Monforte from Guam’s education department said there was one suicide every two weeks in Guam.

Most of the victims are male, aged between 16 and 25 and the majority are school students.

Monforte said the three-day training programme provided 150 of the island’s bus drivers – who are seen as an extension of the school campus – with skills and tools to talk to students who appear to need help.

“The bus drivers are the people that the students see first and last each day. A bus driver also gets to know who the kids are and some of them will get to know their behavioural patterns,” she said.

Talking about suicide is not easy and there is hesitation to discuss issues related to the problem, according to Monforte.

“It’s almost taboo because we are a small community.”

Monforte said bus drivers found the training useful and there were plans to extend the training to school counsellors and nurses.

“The feedback we’re getting about it is that they are very happy to get the training. It’s uncomfortable at first but we just have to get comfortable talking about it,” she said.

“Only in talking about it can we actually do something that could potentially save a life.”

And in Fiji, Prime minister Frank Bainimarama has described child and youth suicide in Fiji as a “crisis” following the suicides of three primary school students last week.

Speaking at the opening of the Principals Association Conference on September 10, which was also World Suicide Prevention Day, Bainimarama spoke about the need to act urgently as a nation.

Of the 89 suicides in Fiji so far this year, 10 were of children under the age of 16, while another 20 people between the ages of 17 and 25 also took their own lives.

Of the 80 attempted suicides over the same period, seven of those involved children under the age of 16.

Another 35 of them were aged between 17 and 25.

The prime minister acknowledged that it is only now that Fiji is starting to institute the kind of measures that should have been put in place years ago.

Bainimarama said that while a range of counselling services and initiatives already exist, he had instructed every instrument of government to improve its response to youth suicide.

Since a Child Helpline was set up in January, the service has taken 400 genuine calls from young people who needed help.

The calls to it are free from any landline or mobile phone.