Given the plethora of information and research on suicide made publicly available in Guyana over the last two years, it is quite an enigma that misinformation continues to be peddled from the top of socio-political structure. The latest such tidbit is that suicide happens because of unhappiness. This kind of blasé approach, trivializing a national crisis is both distressing and frustrating and reinforces the ‘blame the victim syndrome’. In Guyana, the known risk factors for suicide include:
• Sexually transmitted disease;
• Abuse (domestic, sexual, physical and mental);
• Teen pregnancy, incest, rape;
• Relationships: dysfunctional, triangular, teenager, separation, break ups;
• Alcoholism and drug abuse;
• The societal response to alternative sexual lifestyles – gays and lesbians;
• Problems that seem insurmountable – poverty, unemployment, handicaps, losses..
• Poor socialization and coping skills that lead to helplessness and hopelessness;
• A suicide contagion driven by the Werther Effect (copycatting), the Bollywood Effect (the ‘glorification’ of suicide in Bollywood movies and soaps) and a sort of socio cultural acceptance/internalization that suicide is an answer to life’s problems.
Perhaps most importantly, it is globally know that about 90% of people who commit suicide have some sort of psychiatric disorder and that depression is more often than not, the straw that breaks the camel back. Yet, as US writer and social activist, Gabe Howard, puts it, “The reality is that people who are contemplating suicide aren’t looking for reasons to die, they are looking for a way to make the pain stop.”
However, it is a proven fact that suicide is eminently preventable. And a critical step towards preventing suicide is indeed a national conversation that must:
• Educate and inform the public about the facts so as to dispel myths and misinformation.
• Involve all stakeholders, but especially the media and the relevant government ministries and agencies.
• Harness community based entities such as sports, drama, youth, women and cultural clubs and mass based organizations such as political parties and religious and educational institutions.
• Be concerted and collaborative so as to avoid duplication, ensure a national reach and be premised on commonly accepted strategies and endeavors. Thus inclusion of NGOs that have been working on the ground becomes critical.
• Be mapped to ensure consistency, follow up, feedback and adjustments as needed.
This national conversation must be supplemented by a set of other measures, which have been discussed in the public domain for a while and even ventilated by various government ministers and other spokespersons. So again The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges that:
• The Ministry of Education should identify all teachers who possess some level of social work or mental health training and utilize them as an interim measure while more extensive training is provided and/or fully qualified personnel are being sourced. A refresher crash course may become necessary for those so identified.
• Every community needs trained eyes and ears for proactive action and the Gatekeepers’ Program is the best vehicle to bring about this reality.
• There have been numerous measures bandied about to address pesticide suicide but no concerted plan of action has been indicated. TCV has offered the Shri Lankan Model of Hazard Reduction, which has a tremendous track record of reducing pesticide suicide but there are also a number of other relatively successful models used in Japan, Brazil, Western Samoa, New Zealand and these too can be considered. But there must be urgency in culling from these various models and construct a Guyana specific, holistic plan immediately. Piecemeal, stopgap measures would not work.
TCV has been reaching out to media with a bit of success but it is so important that all media start publicizing the suicide hotlines and offering suicide prevention messages. TCV has messages already crafted/produced and have already offered them to some media. Meanwhile we urge the media to be more empathetic and considerate of loved ones of suicide victims and completely cease publishing suicide victims’ photos. We also remind counselors and related personnel to always ensure that confidentiality remains the central tenet of their practice. This point is made not because there is any doubt about confidentiality, but because TCV has been informed by a number of different sources that some are hesitant to seek the help of counselors because confidentiality is breached. We would like to believe that this is just a rumor but given its existence, reinforcing confidentiality becomes absolutely necessary.
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