The most important outcome of the National Stakeholder’s Conference on Suicide and Related Issues, held on August 21, at Cara Hotel, Georgetown, Guyana, was the realization of an urgent need for collaboration and ongoing, concerted efforts on the social landscape to address suicide, rape, incest, alcohol and drug addictions and domestic and child abuse. Not surprisingly therefore, the conference gave a mandate to extract all the proposals put forward and framework them in an action plan which would then be lobbied for by a committee comprising volunteers drawn from the more than fifty stakeholders, who attended the conference. So, as the action plan is being finalized, anyone interested in being part of the lobbying committee is urged to contact Bibi Ahamad at 621-6111 or 223-2637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, The Caribbean Voice emphasizes that the El Dorado Awards was aimed at bringing stakeholders to an interactive social setting and fostering communication, to explore possibilities of collaboration and ongoing, concerted efforts. The awards platform itself was meant to allow scope to recognize the many, many individuals and entities who work tirelessly and often quietly on the social landscape to address suicide and related issues, as well as to combat animal cruelty, help the poor and powerless, propagate and promote culture as a tool for empowerment, campaign for civil and other rights and so on. Based on feedback, and the tremendous support garnered, the awards will now be an annual event.
The Caribbean Voice also engaged in a number of bilateral meetings to establish partnerships, enhance collaborative efforts, foster piggybacking and/or seek support for its suicide prevention campaign. One immediate result of such meetings was endorsement of the National Schools Essay Contest, by the Minister of Education, Hon. Dr. Rupert Roopnarine. We hope to have this initiative launched ASAP and we appeal to other stakeholders, especially the private sector, to come on board, so we can make this a worthwhile effort for our students and achieve the ultimate goal of developing social change agents in communities across Guyana.
We also hope that:
1. An appropriate adaptation of the Shri Lankan Hazard Reduction Model will soon be implemented by the relevant ministries. The fact is that when there is already a proven strategy/good practice (suicide was reduced by 50% in about a decade or so in Shri Lanka), there is really no need to focus time, efforts and resources on reinventing the wheel.
2. There would soon be an expansion of sensitization training for police and others in the legal/justice system, and that such training would also embrace educators (an appeal stirringly made by parents of a 14 year old who committed suicide after being publicly embarrassed by a teacher in school), health care workers and others who interact with the public at an intrinsic level on a regular basis. Such training should not only focus on suicide prevention, but all related issues, especially rape and incest, child and domestic abuse and alcoholism and drug use.
3. The introduction of peer counseling in schools. Research has shown that in the appropriate situations, under the guidance and tutelage of an adult, trained to handle the more serious issues, peer counseling can be highly successful in helping students, (among other benefits), to handle conflicts, build self-esteem, enhance emotional well-being and be socially adept.
4. The appointment of counselors in all schools would be given immediate attention. This is a measure that The Caribbean Voice has been lobbying for, for more than a year and which the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, has spoken a lot about. Now there is need to transform that talk into urgent action. Also, we strongly recommend that the Teachers Training College include courses in mental health and counseling on the curricula for all its trainees and we suggest that similar courses be made mandatory for all social science and medical programs at UG, if not university wide.
5. The Gatekeepers’ Program would soon be brought back and expanded to quickly reach all ten administrative regions so that every community can include sets of individuals who would be able to identify warning signs and take proactive action to preempt suicide. May we point out that more than 50 NGOs attended the National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide & Related Issues and that many more than that amount also dot the social landscape and if these NGOs can be incorporated into plans by the line ministry, training sessions for the Gatekeepers’ Program can be organized collaboratively and concurrently in communities across the nation. Furthermore, communities would then be able to take ownership of the goals and mission of the program and the ministry can establish a network of liaisons with communities.
6. The suicide hotlines would be established in all ten administrative regions rather than remain centrally located in Georgetown and that the chaplaincy that handles the hotlines currently, would include priests for all three major faiths – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. In fact, in time we hope that hotlines can be separated from the police force, as it is well known that public trust and confidence in the police force is far from what it should be.
Meanwhile, a number of media entities have agreed to continually run the suicide hotline as well as to publish or broadcast messages about suicide prevention and related issues. We urge other media entities to also do the same. As well, we urge businesses to add such messages to their outdoor advertising, as most of these ads do have enough space to accommodate at least one message.
Also, The Caribbean Voice emphasizes that in addition to separate and distinct activities and events for suicide prevention and related issues awareness, piggybacking should also be considered wherever possible. For example at a cultural or sports event, banners can be put up, flyers and other literature distributed and slogans announced at various times by the hosts/emcees. In fact, The Caribbean Voice and its partners urge all stakeholders – NGOs, public sector and private sector, event organizers and planners – to please implement piggybacking since this would ensure continuity and broad engagement with respect to redressing this set of social issues.
Incidentally, The Caribbean Voice is delighted that while in 2014 the only event to mark World Suicide Prevention Day was our press conference in Georgetown, this year at least three major activities were held:
1. Launch of the suicide awareness campaign by the Prevention of Teens Suicide (POTS) organization. This organization is led by singing star and Miss World Guyana 2015, Lisa Punch and includes some caring and committed young people;
2. A Suicide Prevention March and Rally organized by the Mibicuri Community Developers together with the Region Six Education Department that was graced by two members of the cabinet. This organization has been engaged in yeoman’s service in Black Bush Polder.
3. A fabulous candle light vigil in Berbice, organized by Golden Om Dharmic Youth Group, led by Pandit Deodat Persaud, Among other pursuits, Golden Om has been organizing a variety of activities in Lower Corentyne, aimed at suicide prevention and related issues. Pandit Persaud was one of the honorees at the El Dorado Awards.
Now as activists and advocates continue to advance efforts on suicide prevention and related issues, The Caribbean Voice hopes that the Mental Health Strategy, has or soon will incorporate activists and advocates on the social landscape, as these individuals will be there in local communities to ensure continuity and ongoing efforts to address the issues and foster necessary assistance. We also hope that this strategy would also be widely disseminated so that the general public becomes familiar with it and so that the respective ministries would be open to feedback both with respect to what is currently entailed in the document as well as how the measures are implemented, as such feedback can only strengthen the program and make it more relevant and pragmatic.
The simple reality is that not only is suicide prevention everybody’s business, but suicide prevention cannot happen in a vacuum. Thus there is need to address other related issues – sexual crimes, substance addictions and abuse and domestic and child violence – as the National Stakeholders’ Conference emphasized.
In this respect mention must be made of Serenity Seekers Al-Anon Family Group (Georgetown based), a support group structure for people who are troubled by the drinking of persons close to them. Such persons are urged to call Nicky at 600-0832 or Joanne at 619-4835. It is our hope that not only should similar support groups emerge in all the ten administrative regions of Guyana but also major activities to mark international days set aside for awareness with respect to suicide, domestic violence and related issues would dot the landscape in Guyana in the coming years.
Also, The Caribbean continues to call on the relevant authorities to establish a registry of sex offenders ASAP and to educate the general public on its usefulness in helping to combat sexual abuse of children.
Thirdly, given the findings of a report widely publicized in the media recently, we call on the relevant authorities to urgently investigate and clamp down on the sources from which young people are obtaining cocaine and other drugs. Also, it would be worthwhile to find out how these young people are they paying for the drugs and, through the schools, engage parents in strategies to prevent their children from buying such drugs.