Although Guyana has been labelled as one of the Region’s most suicide-plagued countries, statistics over the past few years have proven differently.
This was according to Clinical Psychologist attached to the Public Health Ministry, Balogun Osunbiyi who explained that the suicide death rates in Guyana stood at 44.2 per cent in 2012.
Over the years, this high percentage has decreased with 2016 figures standing at 29 per cent and in 2017, 24.67 per cent. Although the figures for 2018 have not been officially released, this newspaper was told that suicide-related deaths were down by at least 50.
While these numbers may be good for the country, The Caribbean Voice had a different view on the matter.
In fact, the Managing Director of the agency, Bibi Ahamad, believes that the numbers have not decreased significantly and that the Health Ministry might be trying to paint this picture.
She said that the numbers suggested that the figures may have been reduced but many suicidal attempts are smeared when victims are rushed to the hospital and are treated.
Ahamad said that those persons die from heart failure a few days later and this does not record as a suicide case.
According to her, “The rate has not dropped significantly, but I know a lot of cases would not have been reported. Someone drinks gramoxone, they go to the hospital, the doctor gives them some saline and that person feels a little better and goes home and about two or three days after they pass away (so) that death certificate does not put the cause of death as poison but by failure of heart or something”.
Admitting that The Caribbean Voice does not have access to statistics, the Director complained that for some reason, the Government is quiet on figures relating to social ills, as many analyses are sometimes not even conducted or shared so that those ills can be addressed.
Osunbiyi, who spoke with the National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States, told the agency that there are many reasons for the country’s alarming rates of suicide.
Among the reasons he listed were a pervasive stigma about mental illness, access to lethal chemicals, alcohol misuse, interpersonal violence, family dysfunction and insufficient mental health resources.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) conducted a study in 2017 which found that the leading cause of death was suicide among persons between the ages of 15 to 24 years old. Even more surprising was that those figures accounted for more than half of the deaths in persons between the ages of 20 and 24.
That study also found that most victims of suicide were males.
IN the first-ever training of its kind, teachers from Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) recently received training to equip them with skills to handle domestic violence cases in their schools. The Caribbean Voice (TCV) applauds the Ministry of Education (MoE) for this initiative.
TCV has been advocating for this training for years. In fact, our teachers workshop covers domestic violence, suicide prevention, sexual abuse, self-harm, bullying and self care. To date, TCV has held a number of teachers workshops in Regions Four, Six and Three.
Teachers have also attended similar workshops held for communities in these regions as well as in Regions Two, Five and Seven. As one teacher pointed out after attending one of our workshops, ‘this is the first time our psycho-social needs are being catered for’.
TCV urges the MoE to make their training inclusive of the other issues addressed by our workshops and take it to all regions and then designate all teachers as mandatory reporters with respect to all issues covered in the training. We also urge a quick-referral mechanism to facilitate easy and quick reportage and urgent follow-up action.
“You can’t go and tell someone who is living in an abusive situation to leave without any form of help. Here in Guyana, we do not have homes or shelters for battered women.”
Those were the sentiments of Managing Director of the Caribbean Voice, Bibi Ahamad during a recent interview with Guyana Times.
Ahamad, a survivor of domestic violence believes that there is a grave need for more safe houses to be constructed to provide a sense of hope for victims, especially single mothers.
According to her, society tends to get taken up with organising awareness activities and forgets the most important aspect, which is to provide assistance.
She said, “From my perspective as well as the Caribbean Voice perspective is that there is a lot of talk, there is a lot of photo op, people doing workshops and walks and so forth. What happens after you do these walks? What happens after you do these outreaches? Do you do any follow-up? Is there any clinical psychologist that goes to help in that area you work in? What happens after then? How do you intend to help victims?”
Ahamad added that raising awareness is a meagre part when it comes to domestic abuse.
“When you tell a victim, leave your husband and this victim has five kids, she depends on the abuser, how would she cope? That is where her coping skills can lead her to become suicidal. She can go into depression,” the Director explained.
Last week, a Domestic Violence walk was held in Kuru-Kururu on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway where the Citizenship Minister, Winston Felix suggested that oil revenues can be used to assist victims of domestic violence.
According to Ahamad, “That would be great but… they just campaigning here and I am being realistic. Guyana doesn’t have mechanism in place to help battered women in that respect because if you put a home in Essequibo, the abuser can know there is a home in Essequibo, they can target it”.
The Minister had noted that a part of the impending oil revenues should be used on a programme which will help victims of domestic violence, as many victims, especially women, are often forced to live under abusive circumstances because they are unable to fend for themselves.
“If it’s (circumstances) really bad it means that these women are not working and they have three or four children to support. The question of how the removal of the breadwinner can be replaced so that the question of support does not get lost (and) that is one of the issues which I think over time we will have to overcome probably with oil and the revenue from oil we might be able to develop or put some money into social programs that will support women whose husbands have been either in prison or have been separated from the home and they have very little means of support,” he said.
Only last year, Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus said there was a grave need for the availability of more safe homes to protect domestic violence victims and survivors.
According to statistics from a study conducted by Red Thread which was released last year, 81 per cent of domestic violence cases were reported by women as against 17 per cent being reported by men.
Guyanese feel alcoholism, domestic abuse, and dysfunctional relationships have the greatest impact on mental health. This is one of a number of findings of The Caribbean Voice’s fifth poll conducted last December.
Alcoholism, in particular, has a deleterious effect on the mental health of a family, not to mention the mental and physical wellbeing of the consumer. Also, alcoholism has significant effects on domestic problems.
As well, many respondents feel Government is not doing an effective job in addressing these issues. They suggest social workers and guidance counsellors go around and visit communities to address the many social problems that citizens face. These problems include alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence, suicide, child abuse, sexual abuse (including incest), stress and low self-esteem.
Below are the specific responses to the questions asked.
1. Do you think Government is doing enough to address social issues?
2. Do you think Guyanese are seriously affected mentally by the current political situation?
3. Do you think Guyanese are seriously affected mentally by the current economic situation?
4. Is the Government doing enough to address mental health?
This opinion poll interviewed 320 people at random, reflecting the demographics (41 per cent Indians, 30 per cent Africans, 18 per cent Mixed, 10 per cent Amerindians, one per cent other) of the population. The margin of error was five per cent.
In a recent ruling, the New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Court levied a fine of $200,000 with an alternative of one year in jail to Troyden Evans called “Tuckey”, 42 who pleaded guilty to a charge of Inflicting grievous bodily harm on Ronda Mc Garrell, with a baton.
What message is the justice system sending to abusers by such slaps on the wrist?
The victim in this particular case was subjected to persistent abuse over a period of time at the hands of her abuser.
In fact he was charged in the past with assault, wounding and other offences against the victim. On this occasion he broke her arm! He beat her mercilessly! He threatened her life, not for the first time!
Imagine being told your life is worth $200,000! Is this some kind of joke? A clear message of Zero Tolerance to Abuse must be sent to abusers.
In fact while this letter was being written, The Caribbean Voice learnt of a mother of three fighting for her life after being stabbed seven times by her ex-husband.
We must not wait until another life is lost before we institutionalize penalties to match the crime in Domestic Violence Cases.
As well, we once again call for an urgent national concerted campaign to tackle this scourge. The Caribbean Voice would be willing to be part of such a campaign. We are in the process of finalizing a campaign of our own but we strongly believe that multi stakeholders’ collaboration can get more done for less thereby maximizing resource use and expanding the reach of the campaign.
A letter writer recently called upon Guyanese to ‘say yes to life, not suicide’. We know that this person means well but if it were that easy then there would be no suicide deaths at all. The simple fact is that people must be armed with tools that would empower them to be able to not see suicide as an option.
A case in point is the recent suicide death of that fifteen-year old student. One tool would have been the training of students and teachers to identify suicide warning signs and act immediately to get help. Another tool would have been availability of a counselor on the staff. In lieu of that a third tool would have been quick and easy access to a counselor by the school. The most important tool would have been the capacity of the school to be proactive and save a life since being reactive does not bring back the dead.
Indeed all we’re left with is a death that was eminently avoidable, embracing circles of agony and pain and finger pointing and fault finding. Media reports indicate that ‘the motive for taking her own life remains a mystery’. But the warning sign was clear and evident – the student threatened to take her life!
Over the years there have been numerous cases of suicide survivors claiming that they thought the suicide victim was joking when he or she talked about wanting to die by suicide. The fact is that when it comes to someone’s life any and all warning signs should catalyze immediate action. It is always better to say sorry for being wrong than to beat the breast and pull the hair in grief and agony.
Meanwhile this tragedy once again puts the issue of school counselors front and centre. The reality is that mobile counseling units cannot service schools with the speed, urgency, regularity and adequacy required. So once again we call on the government to reach out to the psychology undergrads of the last few years and set up a pool of trained counselors who can service batches of neighbouring schools. And with UG now offering a psychology programme, current teachers can be facilitated to take the psychology programme so each school can have its own counselor within a few years.
As well teachers and students should be provided ongoing training in mental health and teachers should be tasked with becoming mandated reporters of suicide ideation (and abuse). The Caribbean Voice does have a workshop for students that has already been taken to a number of schools and youth groups, most recently last month at a school on the East Coast of Demerara.