By Annan Boodram
“A cluster crisis” developing into a ‘cluster syndrome” – this how The Caribbean Voice’s Norkah Carter has termed the accelerating suicide rate in Guyana, as suicide now seems to happen in clusters over any given time period, with increasing frequency. And as has pointed out by so many over time, the issues of communication and the capacity to cope with any given reality, are two factors that significantly impact suicide. Now, it is becoming an imperative for a national response to suicide, one that must encompass communities across the nation, in a concerted and ongoing manner and that must focus on all issues related suicide, especially domestic and child abuse, alcoholism, relationship dynamics, self acceptance and issues of empowerment.
Against this background The Caribbean Voice repeats its call for all and sundry currently involved on activism on the social landscape to reach out to each other and work collaboratively to maximize resource deployment and obtain the greatest possible impact. Collaboration has been a key pillar of our platform and inclusiveness another. In fact, the national anti-violence, candle light vigil, scheduled for March 27th, is aimed at furthering collaboration and inclusiveness.
Vigils can be organized by religious institutions, local businesses, sports and youth clubs…just about any entity or set of individuals including schools. Where possible two or more entities can collaborate. Each vigil can select routes around the community, end at a central point or any other selected place where the participants can be accommodated and hold a rally whereby individuals from within or without the community can speak on the theme of anti-violence and, if desired, inter faith prayers can be conducted. During the walkabout anti-violence slogans can be chanted.
Hopefully such a vigil will drive home the message that anti-violence must become everybody’s business and immediately so! For it is only then we will make sure we get into other people’s business when they seem to be grappling with issues and get them any needed help, whether its to deal with suicidal mindsets, depression, hopelessness/helplessness or whatever else.
The candle light vigil, to be held in communities throughout the nation, is a step in this direction. So we appeal to local and community leaders, businessmen and other influentials, as well as community organizations, including religious institutions and sports club, and government agencies to please help to bring off this activity by ensuring that a vigil is organized in every community, collaboratively where possible. We have set March 30 as the date for the vigil but we are open to consider alternate dates. And we hope to have one contact for each community whom we can keep updated. We want to map all the vigils so we can seek pre and post publicity. So please contact us to let us know that a vigil is planned in your community: email via email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com, call or text 718-542-4454 or 317-414-9076 (USA) or 621-6111 or 223-2637 (Guyana). Also send us IM via our facebook page, The Suicide Epidemic.
The latest in a series of initiatives planned by The Caribbean Voice and other partners on the local scene, the vigil recognizes that no entity can do it alone, no matter how well intentioned. The vigil is one of many endeavors planned for 2015. Others include:
- A nation-wide training program for responders at the community level, to supplement and complement what already exists.
- A national stakeholders’ conference to focus not only on suicide but all related issues.
- Walks/rallies in every region.
- A national schools essay contest on suicide prevention.
- A campaign to erect billboards in every district.
- A campaign to decriminalize suicide.
The Caribbean Voice suicide prevention campaign was born out of an online discussion between two individuals, Annan Boodram and Norkah Carter, who happened to moor at the same port, one day in May 2015. First came the idea of a facebook page to encourage discussions and sharing of experiences and views relating to suicide. Then followed a resolve to and chart action. Soon others entered or were brought into the fray, plans were crystallized, an existing NGO, The Caribbean Voice, became the vehicle for the journey and we were on our way.
Actual activism started with media advocacy via a letter writing/article campaign which has literally gone global and which is ongoing. Advocacy has also been expanded to social media via a facebook page called ‘The Suicide Epidemic,’ a youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/ab10460/feed?view_as=public), a twitter account at https://twitter.com/caribvoice, along with a hashtag- #suicideprevention.
The official launch of the suicide prevention campaign in Guyana took the form of a press conference on September 10th, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. Since then we have launched an outreach campaign and have been engaged in interventions in and out of Guyana. Also, we have been privy to much information and numerous cases that never made the news. For example, a housewife was brutally beaten by her husband. Feeling ashamed and helpless she became suicidal and rejected suggestions to go to the police or get counseling. A reputable NGO was called in and she was taken to hospital. Two days later, after leaving the hospital, she did, in fact, commit suicide leaving behind a young teenaged son who seems lost and forlorn, a mother who refuses to get counseling for the child claiming she would deal with child in her own way and an abuser against whom no legal action has been taken. To compound matters, the mother is emotionally overwrought and this means there are two other lives at risk of suicide – the son and the mother. This particular case also brings into question the issue of respite-stay, and follow up care, perhaps even half way houses.
Then there was a thirteen-year girl who was being raped by her stepfather, when the mother/wife walked in on them. Rejecting the child’s assertions that she was forced into the act, the mother beat the child who then committed suicide. When questioned by an interested outsider, the police stated that they knew nothing about rape. Based on his own knowledge of the family’s situation and his own investigations, that interested outsider concluded that the stepfather, who is a businessman, bribed the police.
In another case a teenager expressed a desire to commit suicide because of some issue with the parent. The parent’s response? “Come me go gie you de poison.” Situations like these indicate many needs: that suicidal mindsets including verbal warning signs, must never be responded to flippantly; that parent/children communication is a hugely problematic and that family dysfunction is a growing problem. As a matter of fact we have even heard many allegations that rapes and incest are completely disregarded by the police once money changes hands. We have also received reports of suicides not being recorded by police because of bribes being offered and this is one reason why we strongly believe that as high as the numbers are, suicide is still somewhat under reported in Guyana. This desire to hide ‘suicides’ stems from ‘shame’ and ‘family dishonor’, which are still prevailing responses to suicide in Guyana as well as in the Diaspora.
Since The Caribbean Voice launched its suicide prevention campaign in Guyana, stories like this abound. In fact a visit to a trade school in Georgetown revealed significant depression with quite a number of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies. In one on one chats they revealed that their depression was brought on mostly by family problems: living with abusive step-father; mother not having time for them; being abused by parents and living with relatives who ill treat them. The upshot is that young people feel disenfranchised, lost and a burden.
Also, we have found that many young people make similar confessions online. Naturally too, many act out because they feel that today is all they have. And some teenaged females are pushed into situations because some parents feel that ‘after 12 is lunch”, which means “she is old enough to take a man so let someone else take care of her”.
Our investigations also revealed the existence of a ‘sex bus’ in Guyana, on which young people, mostly students, travel for a fee and anything goes during the time spent on the bus. Worse yet is that parents, schools and related officials seem unaware of this situation or may very well be ignoring it.
Thus, in an attempt to get a better grasp of attitudes towards suicide and related issues, we commissioned a short poll found that almost everyone interviewed knew of someone who had committed or attempted suicide. Also, almost everyone (92%) said they believe suicide can be prevented with timely intervention. Similarly, almost everyone interviewed (96%) said they would be willing to try to prevent someone from committing suicide if they know the person was thinking of doing so. The poll also found that almost everyone interviewed were aware of at least one person who had suffered or is suffering from domestic abuse. However, 66% of respondents indicated that they would intervene in a domestic violence situation, while 19% would not, because its not their business and 15% were not sure, but may intervene depending on the situation. Also, most people said they don’t wish to get involved in husband-wife quarrels, pointing out that the ‘peacemaker’ usually ends up being the enemy.
Now we start the new year with a structure than includes 25 activists/advocates, a technical team of five counselors/social workers, a spokesperson team of five media personnel and performing artists and a board of directors of eight drawn from business and professional community in Guyana and North America. We have established linkages with almost 25 partners in and out of Guyana. And while we recognize that what can be achieved, is a function of many variables outside of our control, we plan to ramp up our activism as much as is feasible.
May we also take this opportunity to express our deep, abiding sadness at the sudden and tragic loss of our board member, Dr. Faith Harding, one of those rare individuals who was able to rise above the divides of politics and ethnicity and advance the lives of Guyanese one community at a time, while exuding care and compassion to all who were fortunate to enter her embrace. She will be sorely missed.