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Group calls for action to stem tide

By Sweet One Gillliam HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Sept. 7, 2010) – A non-profit group known as Focus on Life reports that suicide is the fifth leading cause of death on Guam and urged authorities and the community to help them save more lives.

"Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death on Guam and is widely recognized as a significant public health issue by the Guam community. On average from 2000-2009, there were 23 suicide deaths per year, approximately one suicide death every two weeks," the group said in its report.

The Focus on Life—Guam Youth Suicide Prevention project began in Sept. of 2008 and will run until Sept. 2011.

Through funding from the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Grant, the group profiled its first suicide report with alarming statistics.

It said one in five suicide deaths occurs under 20 years of age; two in five suicide deaths occur among the 20-29 age group, and about 60 percent of all suicide deaths occur under 30.

"Many of these cases (suicide) are attributed to family disputes and interpersonal relationship conflicts are most often implicated as the immediate circumstances surrounding a suicide attempt on Guam, therefore the campaign includes inspirational messages that ‘focus on life’ and empowers young people to develop and nurture health relationships, " Focus on Life said.

"Most people have a range of mental health issues such as stress, grief from deaths or post-traumatic stress syndrome for various reasons such as loss, grief, discrimination, and alienation at school, violence, abuse and family difficulties," it added.

Allied groups of Focus on Life like the Guam’s Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and Guam Identifies Families’ Terrific Strengths, Inc., or GIFTS, use a "systems of care" approach in the Guam branch of the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, to deal with suicidal cases.

This approach uses a case manager to go around and collect information on an individual’s family, hold a meeting with family members and representatives of various agencies and to address the needs of a particular child collectively.

A federal grant supports the systems of care approach which provide services for children with attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, depression, and or other emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges.

"Mental Health actually means thoughts, actions and behaviors, people get it confused with a stigma of old terms like, ‘mental retardation,’ one and five children have mental health issues," said Mary Therese Adgerle, executive director of GIFTS.

She said their program reaches out to all members of the community—young and old alive.

"We focus on the strength base in families as the key ingredient to build on. There are famous people and important people who have mental health issues, and have significantly defined society, including basketball star, Michael Jordan, scientist Albert Einstein, comedian Jim Carrey, poet Edgar Allen Poe, inventor Alexander G. Bell, automobile innovator Henry Ford, second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin, movie director Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney," she said.

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