Urgent Need for Gatekeeper’s Program

Georgetown, Guyana, January 25, 2016: Two colleagues were having a conversation. One, who was facing a rough time, was asked by the other, “How do you feel?”
The response resulted in a process that saw the respondent, in spite of his protestations, being escorted by the police, to the hospital, for an evaluation, as an assumption was made that he was suicidal. At the hospital he was held overnight, again in spite of his protestations, so as to be monitored, and the following day, just like the previous day, he had to undertake evaluations by social workers and psychiatrists. Additionally, a family member also had to be interviewed. In the end it was decided that he was not a danger to himself and so was discharged.
The above scenario reflects a reality that happens quite regularly, in the US. Given this reality, the many hotlines, the availability of counselors at the touch of a button and so on, why is it that over 42,000 persons commit suicide annually in the US making it the tenth leading cause of deaths in the US? And why is it that 650,000 plus persons attempted self-harm annually?
Clearly something else is missing and The Caribbean Voice strongly believes that it is the absence of first responders, trained eyes and ears in every community, neighborhood and blocks.
In Guyana, the missing piece becomes integral, given the absence of the sophisticated US system referenced above. Yes there are not enough counselors by any stretch of the imagination and yes resources are lacking, but the reality remains that if warning signs can be identified and individuals suspected of being at risk are able to open up to others they can trust, then there is already a very strong possibility that they will never transform intention into action. And given its numerous villages and integrated communities, Guyana is ideal for the process of training and deploying first responders.
The fact is that the time has long gone to move beyond mere awareness and to arm citizens with the wherewithal to combat suicide at the community and household levels. First responders can do much more than simply identify warning signs and take action. They can encourage households to practice safe use and storage of poisons, especially agrochemicals as well as safe disposal of containers. Also, they can help families to understand and practice empathetic communication so that whatever are the issues, children would not see suicide as the answer. Furthermore, they can assist those with relationship issues to get help before the relations become dysfunctional and tragedies ensue. They can help families to tackle abuse and help prevent its occurrence. And they can train others to do all of this, thereby creating an ever-widening circle of individuals who help to save lives, enhance relationships and make communities safe.
A perfect example of how this works was narrated recently to The Caribbean Voice. A teenaged student at a school in Berbice cut herself. Teachers at the school called a pandit, someone whom they were familiar with and trusted. After persuading the student to list down the things that were bothering her, the pandit took the student to a counselor. The upshot was that the student was provided with needed services and then taken home, where the parents were informed that the home environment was not safe for the student and that a trusted family member or relative needed to be identified as caretaker for the student.
Of course, the ideal thing would have been for the student to be identified as suicidal, even before she attempted to harm herself. And with first responders in the community, this could well have been possible. It is within this context that The Caribbean Voice has been calling for a return of the Gatekeepers’ Program. Now with a suicide contagion raging and everyone becoming puzzled as to why no action is being taken by officialdom to bring back the Gatekeepers’ Program, The Caribbean Voice is appealing to regional administrations, religious institutions, mass based organizations, NGOs and community based entities to please get the ball rolling. We are willing to help coordinate. Please reach out to residents in communities or through community institutions such as mandirs, mosques and churches, sports clubs, youth clubs, women’s organizations and so on and arrange for training sessions.
For more information and every sort of help, including finding trainers, please touch base with the Ministry of Health or Social Protection, regional health authorities, health institutions, regional social workers, or The Caribbean Voice. The Caribbean Voice can be reached at bibiahamed1@hotmail.com, caribvoice@aol.com, deodatpersaud25@yahoo.com, goldenomdharmic@yahoo.com. Call 621-6111, 223-2637 or 627-4423.

About caribvoice

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