Please take politics of out of suicide prevention; this is about saving lives

The Caribbean Voice is deeply saddened by the fact that political posturing trumped the need to save lives as “a parliamentary motion expressing concern for Guyana’s alarming suicide rate, quickly descended into a politicised debate marked by blame-throwing” (as one local media described it). Indeed a motion calling for urgent action to save lives transformed into an argument as to who’s stealing who’s work, as our smart politicians sought to score political points rather than come together to arrest the suicide epidemic that is stalking the land.
The fact of the matter is that the PPP, while in government, aborted the one mechanism that was beginning to make a difference, the Gatekeepers Program. And while the Pesticide Board had agreed to roll out an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Hazard Reduction Model to tackle pesticide suicide, that went nowhere after the change of Government last May.
Also we all know that current government just completed one year in office but at the beginning of that year the promises rained down while the only mechanism put in place so far is the suicide hotline that has neither been widely publicized nor is used to any significant extent by the population. We are still waiting for the roll out of counselors in schools, which, according to Education Minister, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, was set to start earlier this year, in February. Ditto for the other measures talked about – Gatekeepers’ Program, a mechanism to address pesticide suicide, implementation of the Mental Health Plan and so on.
So it befuddles the mind that our politicians are quarreling about who’s stealing who’s thunder while suicide continues to be a ‘norm’ with at least 15 so far for August, of which at least eight were not reported in the media! Perhaps more befuddling however, is this constant urge to reinvent the wheel when there are already tried and tested strategies, measures and best practices that can be adapted to suit the Guyana social landscape. This constant reinventing, which always seem to be arrested mid stream, eats up financial and other resources, time and efforts that can significantly help in tackling the range of mental health and social issues that stalk the land.
Furthermore, given that the call for collaboration echoed by both sides of the house, one would have thought that our political leaders would pit heads together and come up with a plan whose implementation would reflect the urgency of necessary action. One option would have been to send the bill to committee to thrash out something acceptable at a bipartisan level that would not water down the necessary mechanisms for suicide prevention. Another suggestion would be to set up a broad based committee that includes the government, opposition, civil society and NGO stakeholders to rework the motion and have it jointly sponsored by a member of the gov’t and a member of the opposition.
Meanwhile the process of collaboration can start immediately with the only other thing both sides agreed one – decriminalizing attempted suicide. We call upon the relevant ministry to draft the necessary legislation and lay it in parliament ASAP and we request the opposition to give full support so this archaic law can be taken off the books.
Given the spate of murder/suicide/attempted suicide and of youth suicide and attempted suicide over the past few months, addressing violence in general and suicide and abuse in particular are becoming increasingly urgent imperatives. Thus we sincerely hope that the government, especially the relevant ministries, will immediately begin to transform rhetoric into action and roll out the various plans and measures that have been propagated over the last year or so. And we also hope that efforts would seriously be made to include the NGOs that are actually bending their backs to make a difference so that they can be able to extend and expand their work, especially in the rural areas and countryside, where the need is greatest. To protest that resources are not available to do what needs to be done would be so facetious given the almost one billion dollar spent on a park used for the Jubilee celebration and the additional billions spent on the many faceted, lavish manifestations of this celebration. Surely our government cannot argue that partying is more critical than saving lives and empowering people.
On another note we were so happy to notice that self-esteem was on the menu for training program for young ladies held recently. While the news article did not mention it, we also hope coping skills was included. However, we want to point out, as we have done before, that self esteem and coping skills must be included in all training programs, anywhere, especially for the young, since it is evident that lack of these two skill sets significantly contribute to both suicide and abuse. We also reemphasize that any and all such training programs must not be one off but should be taken countrywide, to have a sustained, national effect.
And speaking of collaboration, The Caribbean Voice and the 25 plus NGO partners, welcome the endorsement of Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan for “Voices Against Violence National Candlelight Vigil” set for World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10. We hope other Ministries and even President Granger will find it possible to also endorse this vigil, which aims to bring communities together to harness efforts for social action, and to urge all communities to get involved. To date over 25 vigils are confirmed in almost all the regions, and we expect this figure to more than double by the time September 10 comes around.
Meanwhile we also urge communities and all organizations to band together and plan vigils in communities across Guyana. For further information, clarification, assistance and to have vigils mapped and publicized, please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637, Pandit Deodat at 627-4432, Keshni Rooplall at 697-9968, Nazim S Hussain at 644-1152, Dolly Singh at 266-5617. Send email to,, or


About caribvoice

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