The National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues is scheduled for Friday August 21 from 8am to 5pm at Cara Hotel in Georgetown. Its purpose is to initiate a national conversation on suicide and related issues – domestic and other forms of violence; teenage pregnancy, rape and incest; alcoholism and drug abuse and family and relationship issues such as lack of empathetic communication, self worth and self acceptance – with the hope that viable programs/plans can emerge to tackle these issues nationally and that such programs/plans will foster collaboration between NGOs and private and public sector institutions and agencies.
The idea for the conference arose out of the social activism in which The Caribbean Voice has been involved since we launched our Suicide Prevention campaign last June, a campaign that became imperative after the World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed that Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world.
Over the past year, based on empirical and anecdotal evidence and our own primary research, The Caribbean Voice came to the following conclusions:
- Both suicide and the suicide rate appear to be much higher than figures presented by the WHO.
- While there are areas in which suicides are higher, ever geographic location of Guyana is affected to a lesser or greater extent as is every ethnic group and across gender and age groups. In effect suicide is a truly a national problem and, in fact, there currently exists a suicide epidemic.
- Research indicates that this suicide epidemic is driven by a range of factors, including copycatting or the Werther Effect. Furthermore media content analyses and empirical and anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that suicide has become normalized to the extent that it is not a desperate last resort but just another option when citizens are faced with problems and their consequential agony. In fact research has pointed out that lack of coping skills is a factor that drives suicide.
- While there has been much talk, there is very little action on the part of government and this is compounded by the fact that there is no operational mental health policy, no concerted and holistic suicide prevention program and a woeful lack of trained and qualified personnel to address suicide and related issues.
- To compound matters there seems to be a blasé attitude towards suicide.
Given these considerations The Caribbean Voice realized the urgent need to start a conversation focused on driving policy making, program charting and implementation and desire to sooner than later, realize a national, concerted and collaborative approach to suicide prevention and related issues. The need to focus on suicide plus the related issues arose as a result of a realization that suicide is inextricably linked to these issues – rape and incest, drugs and alcohol use, domestic and child abuse.
Additionally two surveys done by The Caribbean Voice has shown that the general population is not only very aware of the issues and their impact but is also very willing to become involved in redress if provided with training, direction and guidance.
And so, after much brainstorming by The Caribbean Voice and its partners, a decision was taken to hold this conference as a first step in driving an approach that would lead to the provision of nationwide training, direction and guidance. Within this context it became clear that such a conference must be nationally inclusive and be solution oriented. Thus, instead of a lecture type approach, this conference is discussion based with the goal of eliciting ideas that could be the basis for the desired holistic, concerted and collaborative approach to tackling suicide and related issues.
With this in mind The Caribbean Voice has invited all stakeholders – diplomats and international agencies as well as private and public sector, government and media, NGOs and activists, from every region throughout the nation – almost 150 invitees. Preregistration so far indicates that the conference is shaping up to be nationally inclusive and representative of all segments of society, including the Amerindians.
Conference registration starts from 8:30am and conference business at 9:00am. The opening session will last an hour with remarks by various speakers – cabinet members and diplomats. The conference charge will be delivered by the Minister of Social Protection, the Hon, Volda Lawrence. Then there will be a coffee break to be followed by four consecutive plenary sessions each lasting about an hour.
The plenary sessions would focus on four sets issues: suicide, sexual crimes, abuse and drugs & alcohol. Discussions would be driven by SWOTs and overviews for each set of issue and would be moderated by panels of advocates and activists with requisite credentials and experiences in dealing with the issues.
There would then be a break for lunch to be followed by the closing session in which a general discussion would ensue aimed at collating the results of the plenary discussions into a tentative framework that can drive policies and programs in a concerted, collaborative, holistic and sustained manner nationally. The framework will be widely distributed to various stakeholders.