By Annan Boodram
Recently in the Guyana media, Chief Medical Officer CMO), Dr Shamdeo Persaud is reported to have said that the National Suicide Prevention Plan should be launched soon, but the reintroduction of the suicide hotline is highly unlikely. Alluding to the suicide hotline, he explained that the original hotline had many challenges, which may make it difficult to be reintroduced. Also, questioned about a national network of counselors, the CMO again referred to difficulties.
In effect it would seem that CMO is implying that once a needed strategy or measure comes up against difficulties and challenges its implementation becomes highly problematic. But is it not the job of the government to find ways of addressing difficulties and overcoming challenges especially when lives are at stake?
However, we are somewhat heartened that the CMO did indicate that, “various methods are being explored to have it (the hotline) restructured”. And we sincerely hope that a framework for national network counselors will also be explored. In fact, The Caribbean Voice has already put together an informal list of counselors who have essentially agreed to have their names and contact info on the list. We would be quite willing to provide this list to the CMO who can then contact each person and work out accommodations for their involvement in the network. We also know that there are many other counselors, trained through WHO/PAHO and programs offered by the Ministry of Health, the US Embassy and various NGOs. Besides, such a network is essential for the viability of the suicide hotline since those who answer the hotline must be able to refer callers to a counselor within accessible distance. This network is also important for community first responders as they too would need to refer at risk individuals to professionals who can help.
The reality is that The Caribbean Voice had reached out to Guyana’s Minister of Health for a meeting to discuss these and other issues related to suicide prevention and in spite of the Minister himself indicating, since October last year, to our Guyana Coordinator and Managing Director, Bibi Ahamad, that such a meeting was on his agenda, the meeting itself is still to materialize, despite many calls made by our Guyana team to the Hon. Minister’s office.
Dr Persaud also pointed out that before the suicide prevention plan can be launched, a monitoring unit needs to be in place. But should that not have already have been a component of the suicide prevention plan? After all how can a plan be complete if there is no ‘monitoring and evaluation framework’?
Now, we sincerely hope that such a framework will quickly be added so that the plan can be implemented as soon as possible. And we are quite happy that several of the previous initiatives, such as the Gatekeepers’ Programme, would be brought back.
It will be remembered that a poll commissioned by The Caribbean Voice last year revealed that overwhelmingly, citizens believe that the government is not doing enough to tackle suicide. Another poll, commissioned last month, found that the same perspective obtains in relation to alcoholism, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy.
- Do you think alcoholism, drug abuse, and teenage pregnancy are getting out of control?
Response is overwhelming
- Do you think government is doing enough to combat these social problems?
While some responders felt that there is only so much that government can do to discourage people from taking drugs, engaging in unprotected sex, abusing alcohol or practicing other social ills in the society, overwhelmingly, suicide was on the mind of those interviewed. They feel more counselors and therapists are needed in the countryside and rural. However, it was pointed out that many people are unwilling to go for counseling because they worry about the attached stigma, that only crazy (mad) people seek such treatment. Clearly this is an attitude that needs to be tacked via education.
Some responders also suggest that community leaders, school administrators and teachers should be trained to identify suicidal mindsets so early intervention can be done.
Respondents also volunteered the following information: that alcohol use is copied from the home (adults) and from among peers by the youth; teenage pregnancy is attributed to cultural factors (cultural lifestyle of some families) and to the youngsters not wanting to take the advise of adults; and drug use/abuse is related to lack of education about its effects on health as well as peer pressure. Other factors cited include lack of proper parenting, unemployment, family issues, and general anomie (breakdown in law and order).
The poll was conducted in late February in face-to-face interviews and was coordinated by New York-based pollster Dr. Vishnu Bisram. The findings were obtained from interviews with 620 voters comprising of 42% Indians, 31% Africans, 17% Mixed, 9% Amerindians, and 1% other races. The results of the poll were analyzed at a 95 per cent significance level with a statistical sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.