Bipartisan approach needed to decriminalise suicide

Director of the Mental Health Institute, Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas, was recently quoted in the media as being “in full support of the decriminalisation of suicide and self-harm in Guyana”. The Director is the latest in a long line of government officials who have made this call over the years. Non-Guyanese who have also made this call include British High Commissioner Greg Quinn and PAHO/WHO representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow.
However, a bill to decriminalise suicide and self-harm was moved in parliament by the political opposition in 2016. Piloted by Dr. Vindhya Persaud, the bill came about partly through the work of The Caribbean Voice, more specifically Dr. Frank Anthony, a member of our Board of Directors. Although the government spoke in support of the bill, they argued that the manner in which the legislation was framed both politicised and trivialized the issue, but no explanation was ever provided to indicate how this was so.
In 2015, Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had called for the decriminalisation of suicide when he spoke at the launch of the Suicide Helpline. According to the Minister, the decriminalisation could help to solve the whole issue of suicide in a more holistic manner and give persons an opportunity to reform themselves through counseling. Yet he was most vociferous in declaring that government would not support the motion in parliament in 2016.
In 2015, Minister Ramjattan also called for national consultations on the issue but nothing was ever done. However, a 2016 poll commissioned by The Caribbean Voice found that most Guyanese agreed that suicide should be decriminalised. The following were the question and responses obtained:
Should attempted suicide be decriminalised?
Yes No Not Sure/No Response
74 8 18
Suicide is punishable under Chapter 8:01, Section 96 of the Criminal Offences Act, which states, “Everyone who attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for two years.” Also, Section 95 of the Criminal Law Offences Act Cap. 8:01, states, “Everyone who aids or abets any person in the commission of suicide shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life”.
According to Dr. William Adu-Krow, “If such a person escapes prosecution, this person is encouraged to commit suicide.”In addition to calling for the decriminalisation of suicide, he lamented that the existing legislation makes no provision for psychological assistance to survivors.
In October last year, Attorney General, Basil Williams, was quoted in the local media as stating that plans were afoot to decriminalise suicide. Almost a year later, no move has been made towards this end.
In 2016, after the government voted against the bill, TCV called for a bipartisan committee to prepare and take another bill to Parliament but there was absolutely no response from the politicians. While we are aware that until elections, no bills can be passed in Parliament, we do repeat our call for a bipartisan committee to be set up to craft another bill so as to eliminate ‘Politicising and trivialising’ and ensure that next time round the bill becomes law. We also urge that this new legislation makes provision for psychological assistance for suicide survivors’. Surely, this is something our politicians can agree on?

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Tackling Agro-poison Suicides

Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence has been quoted in the local media as stating that “investigations ought to be conducted in suicide deaths caused by the intake of pesticides or other toxic chemicals, to ascertain whether safety and best practices were breached.”
May we remind the Minister that in early 2015, The Caribbean Voice (TCV) and a number of other stakeholders had met with the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) and an agreement arrived at that the PTCCB would unveil an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Model later that year. Nothing has since been heard about that unveiling.
The Shri Lankan model encompasses:
1. Introducing a minimum agro-chemicals list restricting the use of pesticides to a smaller number of pesticides least dangerous to humans.
2. Placing import restrictions to ensure that more dangerous chemicals do not enter the country.
3. Restricting the availability of agro-chemicals by ensuring they are stored safely in locked boxes in rural households, along with all equipment with which these pesticides are used.
4. Ensuring that empty containers are safely and effectively disposed of.
5. Restricting sale of agro-chemicals only to licensed premises and to licensed farmers.
6. Implementing administrative controls to ensure that sales outlets safely store all agro-chemicals.
7. Implementing an ongoing safe use policy to educate people about safe handling, use, storage and disposal. Concurrently, for small-scale farming, non-chemical methods, including organic farming, should be encouraged.
8. Improving medical management of pesticide poisoning: an important facet of control because better management will reduce the number of deaths. Requirements are the better availability of antidotes (both in central referral hospitals and ideally in peripheral health units) and ventilation facilities, better training, and better evidence for interventions.
9. Constantly monitoring all measures to ensure ongoing conformity, including random home visits to check for locked box storage and field visits to ensure that only licensed premises and licensed farmers have access to chemicals and that safe handling, use, storage and disposal are in effect.
In this context, the policy of sharing out cabinets to farmers makes sense. However, given that there are tens of thousands of farmers in Guyana, the few hundreds cabinets, doled out so far, is simply a band-aid approach, thus time for government to reach out to the World Health Organization and other potential international and local partners to come up with an effective, long term plan to tackle agro-poisons suicide.
This plan must, of necessity, include a widely publicised list of all banned agro chemicals. Additionally, potent agro-poisons such as gramoxone, the choice of poison in Guyana, must be added to that list. Gramoxone contains the lethal ingredient paraquat a substance banned in many nations across the globe. There is no known antidote and it has one of the highest death rates for poisons once ingested. While there has been no study on its usage in Guyana, a 1997 study by Dr. Daisley and Dr. Simmons on forensic analysis of acute poisonings in south Trinidad showed that of 105 deaths analysed, almost 95 per cent were cases of suicide, and almost 80 per cent of deaths were due to paraquat. An analysis of international literature, especially a study in South Korea, shows that the introduction of national policies regulating and banning paraquat led to a significant decrease in pesticide-associated mortality. Yet access to this poison in Guyana is as easy as access to candy. And, considering that those who attempt suicide generally do not want to die, ingestion of gramoxone effectively takes away from them that option to survive.
As well, at the Second Caribbean Regional Symposium on Suicide held in December 2015 in the Cayman Islands, a representative from the government spoke with UWI’s toxicologist and founder/head of UWI’s poison control centre, Dr. Verrol Simmons, and indicated to him that the Guyana government would employ his services in addressing agro-poisons suicides. At the third symposium in Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Simmons disclosed to TCV that he never heard back from that individual or the government.
Dr. Simmons also indicated that once a person ingests poison, critical first steps can be taken right there and then to start the life saving process. There is no doubt that such information is desperately needed in Guyana for training and for nationwide dissemination.
As well, Dr. Simmons can provide technical and other assistance with respect to the poison control centers, which were supposed to have been established in mid 2016, according to a January 2016 disclosure in the media by Dr. Shamdeo Persaud. To date no such center has ever been set up.
The combination of an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Model and training by Dr. Simmons, even without the poison control centers, can ensure that there are no gaps and that in the mid to long-term agro-poisons suicides would be significantly reduced if not eliminated.

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Policemen can be charged for contravening Sexual Offences Act

THE Sexual Offences Act provides for police officers to be charged if they fail to institute charges against a suspect three months after a complaint was made, and if they delay in seeking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions. What about victims who claim that instead of taking their complaints, police ridicule and insult them? In any case, why has no police been charged, as there are many cases of refusal to institute charges or delaying them?

Also, it is widely reported in the media that if police do not take the complaints of victims of gender-based violence, such victims can report directly to a magistrate. However, no one has revealed any mechanism through which this would be facilitated, given that an individual cannot simply walk up to a magistrate. Magistrates and judges have gatekeepers, who are usually police officers. They would inquire of victims the reason they want to speak to the judiciary, and they would never allow anyone access to a judge or magistrate if they are told that the person is a victim of abuse who wants to let the judge or magistrate know that the police refused to take complaints and/or to act on such complaints.

TCV is aware of many victims who have revealed the ridicule and insults they suffered at the hands of the police when they went to report abuse. In fact, we even know of situations where money changed hands (bribe-taking by police) so that police would do nothing. It’s gotten so bad that many victims now refuse to go to the police, but instead come directly to TCV or other stakeholders for help. So the question remains, how will these victims gain access to magistrates and judges.

Vinnetta Headley-James, the 44-year-old mother of eight recently murdered by her husband of 26 years, had been suffering years of abuse. In the media, a neighbour was quoted as ‘counseling her’. The Caribbean Voice and other stakeholders have emphasised over and over that only those who are professionally qualified and clinically experienced can counsel. Anyone else who attempts to do so can cause greater harm. **We recall the case of a young lady earlier this year who ended up dying by suicide a couple of days after she started receiving counseling by one such quack. As well, we have also offered an expert to the government to help set up protocols to licence counselors, so quacks and make-believe counselors would face the full force of the law for their pretence. That offer is still open.

Finally, anyone who has lived with an abuser must know that the abuser can easily be triggered to murder, and should therefore, as a matter of self-protection, desist from any such acts while still living with the abuser. One has to wonder, therefore, why did the victim dump the clothes of the abuser in the yard. Who would have ‘counseled’ her to do that?

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NGO to continue advocacy on suicide and violence

Stabroek News, Guyana, August 26, 2019: The Caribbean Voice (TCV) is set to take part in an annual anti-violence candlelight vigil on World Suicide Prevention day, September 10th, to play their part in the prevention of suicide under the theme “Work Together to Prevent Suicide.”

This announcement was made at a press conference on Wednesday where members of the media were told of the non-governmental organisation’s (NGO) suicide and abuse prevention campaign which was launched in 2014. As part of the campaign and in observance of World Suicide Prevention Day, the organisation hopes to inspire positive changes in communities across the country, create an environment where NGO’s can collaborate with community leaders and address violence holistically.

The NGO plans to organise candle light vigils as part of an effort to decide collectively what can be done to prevent suicide, abuse and other forms of violence.

Also speaking at the press conference was Devindra Bridgmohan, who recently secured 10 passes at the recently concluded CSEC examinations. The 17-year-old told the conference of a few of the issues which can lead persons to commit suicide, while also encouraging persons to not give up. He stated that approximately one million persons die each year from suicide. “Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it getting better,” the teen said.

“Whenever you feel like giving up just remember the reason why you held on for so long, place your hand over your heart and tell yourself, you are alive for a reason. Don’t ever give up,” Bridgmohan said while adding that suicide also affects the loved ones of those who fall victim to suicide. The young man gave himself as an example stating that he did not let his disability keep him back and he persevered against all odds.

As part of the organisation’s activities for the remainder of the year and 2020, they intend to have persons trained as counsellors to work along with TCV. “We are going into each Region and do it (conduct the training), it will take us a while to get it done but it will be done,” TCV member Bibi Ahmad was quotes as saying. Ahmad also told the news conference that TCV recently welcomed on board, Bridgmohan, who will now be a voice for TCV. The organisation also presented the teen with a new walker.

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Teen with cerebal palsy is newest member of The Caribbean Voice; receives new walker

Seventeen-year-old Davindra Bridgmohan of Endeavour Canal No. 1 is the newest member of the Caribbean Voice organisation and will be a spokesperson for the said organization.
He will be attending a number of functions to give motivational talks and to help spread suicide awareness. He feels that he can relate in some way especially since he is viewed as being different.
The announcement was made during a press conference for the Caribbean Voice at the Pegasus Hotel on Wednesday morning by Bibi Ahamad, the organisation’s Managing Director.
As a first step towards helping him, the organisation presented the young man with a brand new walker compliments of a number of stakeholders and overseas donors, to aid in his mobility since his condition limits his independent movement,
Davindra greeted the audience and expressesed his joy at being there.
“It’s a pleasure to sit before you and speak about the awareness of suicide.”
He went on to say that the gift of life was given and should be appreciated. Just like a caterpillar who thought the world was over then became a butterfly, the moment you are ready to quit, that’s usually the moment right before a miracle can happen.
“The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately one million people die each year from suicide. Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worst; it eliminates the possibility of it getting any better.”
He further noted that people who are deeply depressed have difficulty realizing that their life would eventually get better. He said that he didn’t let his disability keep him back and from pursuing his dreams.
Davindra can walk with assistance and he is a fluent speaker. He is mostly an independent child who does things on his own. He lives with his parents and two younger siblings in a home that his father made sure to have built in such a way that it suited his son’s needs.
When he sat the National Grade Six Assessment back in 2014 he was awarded a spot at the St. Joseph High School but opted to attend West Demerara Secondary instead.
This year he sat 10 subjects at the CSEC level and passed all gaining four grade one and six grade two passes. He has expressed interest in becoming a Civil Engineer.
However his family couldn’t afford it. Bibi Ahamad is appealing to the public to collaborate with the young man and to assist him furthering his studies to achieve his dreams.

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“Voices Against Violence” Candle Light Vigil To Be Held Countrywide

First launched under the umbrella Voices Against Violence in 2016 the candlelight vigil over the past three years has amassed a number of organizations and special interest groups.

Normally held on September 10 which is World Suicide Prevention Day, it is not only to bring awareness to Suicide Prevention but other social ills as well. Three vigils have been held so far and have included institutions, organisations and communities from seven of Guyana’s ten administrative regions.
This year, however, the Caribbean Voice an organisation that not only has a domestic violence campaign spanning a few countries, also has a training programme where it trains “Gatekeepers”, who are persons within a community that can identify signs of abuse or suicide in any form and to seek the necessary help for them.
Ms Bibi Ahamad, the Managing Director, explained, “Over the years, the Caribbean Voice along with a number of NGOs and faith-based organisations have been doing awareness on suicide prevention on World Suicide Prevention Day.
“We’re hoping this year that we would be able to do it on a larger scale throughout the country. The intent is for the community itself to be able to deal with its social ills to a lesser extent”.
“We have helped in excess of 400 persons. Most of them are still a work in progress because, for counselling someone, it does not happen one or two times. It’s an on-going process. Every one of us volunteer, here in Guyana, we have three trained psychologists and a batch of online counsellors so we network to help people.”
The vigils have a number of objectives to involve all group and institution within the respective communities where they are held with regards to violence activism and to address the issue holistically.
Another aspect is enhancing the process of the communities taking ownership, and to foster the concept for community well-being.

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Caribbean Voice to take domestic violence campaign countrywide

The Caribbean Voice (TCV) is seeking to mitigate the growing rate of domestic violence with campaigns throughout each administrative region in Guyana while providing community counsellors for long-term assistance.
This was shared on Wednesday by Managing Director Bibi Ahamad as she highlighted the many activities that are lined up to spread awareness on domestic violence and suicide prevention. On September 10 the organisation will host its annual candlelight vigil.

Over the years, the Caribbean Voice along with a number of NGOs and faith-based organisations have been doing awareness on suicide prevention on World Suicide Prevention Day. We’re hoping this year that we would be able to do it on a larger scale throughout the country. The intent is for the community itself to be able to deal with its social ills to a lesser extent,” she explained.
The goal of these vigils is to involve all groups of persons within communities and reach out to those that need support. Persons from the community are trained to detect violence in its early stages before it becomes fatal. Ahamad recalled that over 400 persons were assisted in the past with mental illness, abuse and suicide.
Meanwhile, for the domestic abuse campaign, activities will be extended to other Caribbean territories.
“We have helped an excess of 400 persons. Most of them are still a work in progress because, for counselling someone, it does not happen one or two times. It’s an ongoing process. Every one of us volunteer. Here in Guyana, we have three trained psychologists and a batch of online counsellors so we network to help people.”
This year’s CSEC student, Davindra Bridgemohan, who would have performed exceptionally despite being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, is their newest member. He has been appealing to youths about the importance of their lives in society and introducing ways to combat suicidal thoughts.
“God gave us this precious life as a gift and we should appreciate it. The moment you are ready to quit is usually right before the moment a miracle can happen. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately one million people die each year from suicide. Suicide does not end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it getting any better,” Bridgemohan said.
The fast-food franchise, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), has partnered with the organisation in their quest to eliminate suicide and all forms of domestic violence. Training Manager of the establishment, Charissa Rampersaud expressed, “Even if one life is saved through our small token in this massive undertaking, then we could have accomplished something”.

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