Response to Police Commissioner on Suicide Helplines

The Caribbean Voice and its partners welcome the announcement by Police Commissioner Mr. Seelall Persaud, that the Guyana Police Force will be launching suicide helplines, especially given that we have been calling for this for quite a while. If our understanding is correct these helplines would be located at every police station and manned 24/7 by trained personnel. Indeed that is how it should be as single centralized help line would be an exercise in futility. We must emphasize that personnel manning these helplines must be trained to employ empathetic communication to ensure that callers feel comfortable and connected. They must also display basic knowledge of warning signs in order to quickly and easily pin down the factors that may have led to a call.

With respect to faith based counselors being the first line of response in the counseling process, we very strongly urge that such counselors must be provided with basic clinical training and not be left to fall back only on the faith based approach. And we strongly suggest that faith based counselors must be drawn from all three major faiths – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam – as it is critically important not to impose faith based counselors of one religion on those who subscribe to other religions. Also, in areas where priests/pandits/imams/moulvis are not available and/or easily accessible, institutional faith leaders or professionals such teachers for example, can also be provided this training ( The point is that gap between receipt of a call on the helpline and access to a counselor must be as short as possible and thus every area should have counselors available and accessible within minutes.

Given that the police station personnel would “…go pick up a counselor, either from the Ministry of Social Protection or a member of the faith-based organization and take them to the location, let them take over the cases and the process,” the Police Commissioner and line minister must ensure that vehicles for this purpose are always available, for in these situations time could critical.

The Commissioner also stated that,”.. The force would have had the input of doctors providing training to the pastors and police ranks who will be involved in the project.” We sincerely hope that esteemed Commissioner means psychologists and counselors and not medical doctors unless the latter are adequately equipped to provide training in counseling and suicide prevention strategies.

The Commissioner also revealed that he has been having discussions with the Minister of Public Security, Hon. Khemraj Ramjattan, regarding legislation to control access to pesticides and weedicides. However, may we suggest that there is really no need to reinvent the wheel? The Caribbean Voice has been advocating employment of the Sri Lankan Model of Hazard Reduction, which helped to reduce suicides in that nation by 50% in a decade or so, ( and, in fact, along with a number of other stakeholders, including the Rights of the Child Commission and the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabbha, had met with the Pesticide Board, which had indicated that it would have rolled out an adaptation of the Sri Lankan Model in May this year. We do understand that elections and its aftermath may have resulted in the May deadline not being kept, but now surely the esteemed Commissioner and the Hon. Minister of Public Security can reach out to the Pesticide Board and get this process up and running?

We also commend this collaborative approach outlined by the Police Commissioner and we suggest that the Cops and Faith Initiative and the Gatekeepers Program (which the Hon. Minister of Health indicated would be brought back) can also become critical collaborators in the help lines initiative, along with community organizations and NGOs.

The Caribbean Voice and other stakeholders have also pointed out the nexus between suicide on the one hand and other pathologies such as abuse, (especially domestic and child abuse), rape, incest, alcoholism and drug and we strongly suggest that help lines would be more effective, as a suicide prevention tool, if the collaborative process engages relevant stakeholders to address these other issues as well. In this regards also, may we suggest that the establishment of a registry of sex offenders be placed on the agenda and rolled out ASAP? Additionally, we urge also that a process be set in motion to decriminalize attempted suicide.

Finally, in an attempt to enhance the collaborative and holistic processes, The Caribbean Voice is organizing an all day National Stakeholders’ Conference on suicide and related issues on August 21, in collaboration with Cara Hotel, Save Abee Foundation, Office Resources Inc, CADVA, CPIC Monique’s Helping Hands and a number of other entities. We are also extending an open invitation to NGO’s and activists on the social landscape to contact us to be involved in the conference. Because we want the conference to be truly national in representation, we may not be able to accommodate more than one representative per organization and, in fact would have to operate on a first come basis since seating is limited. Also, because it is a catered conference pre-registration is mandatory. There is no registration fee and we are exploring the possibility of helping organizations in outlying areas with transportation.

About caribvoice

Free lance journalist, educator and community activist. Guyana born New York based.
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