Guyana Government Must Give Meaning to Its Anti-Domestic Violence Rhetoric

India’s Supreme Court earlier this month, struck down a legal clause that permits men to have sex with their underage wives. The judgment stated that girls under 18 would be able to charge their husbands with rape, as long as they complained within one year of being forced to have sexual relations. Should this not be an instructive case for nations like Guyana where the age of consent is still 16 but the age of adulthood is 18?

Actually, two years ago The Caribbean Voice launched an online petition for the age of consent to be raised to 18. Now we are rooting for the realization of the Director of the Childcare & Protection Agency, Ann Green’s plan to have such a registry in 2018. As well, we appeal to readers to please sign our petition and urge others to do so by clicking on the ‘Age of Consent’ link at the bottom of the index page on our website – so that we can boost the registry’s chances.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that with respect to issues like suicide and abuse, language is a critical factor. Thus when a government minister defends the use of the term “deflowering” to refer to the brutal act of rape, that is an insult to rape victims and a sanitization of the ultimate act of violence against females. Surely the Hon. Minister must be aware of the messages inherent in such language?

As well, we strongly urge that the language used to talk about abuse be reshaped to ensure that the focus is on the perpetrators and not the victims. Thus instead of how many women were raped we need to talk about how many rapes were committed against women by men. And instead of violence against women, we need to talk about perpetrators of gender-based violence. The idea is to address the violence and its perpetrators while helping victims to heal and take control of their lives in a safe and empowered manner.

Then there is the issue of myths and misinformation. Recently, Public Security Minister Ramjattan, stated that his ministry is working towards implementing anger management programmes countrywide, to help address gender based violence. However, gender based abuse is not caused by anger, otherwise abusers would abuse everyone who make them “angry”. In fact, abusers are very much in control because they can/do usually stop when interrupted. So while we laud this plan, we hope the Minister will also address the real causes of gender-based abuse.

Other prevailing myths include:

  • She can always leave: The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she tries to leave, as that is when the abuser usually fatally injures her. Other factors preventing the abused from leaving include having no safe place to go, family and social pressure, shame, financial barriers, children, religious beliefs. Anti-violence activists also point out that putting the onus on the abused to leave is victim blaming.
  • Abusers are under a lot of stress or unemployed: Since domestic violence cuts across socioeconomic lines, domestic abuse cannot be attributed to unemployment or poverty. Similarly, advocates note that if stress caused domestic violence, batterers would assault their bosses or co-workers rather than their intimate partners. Domestic violence flourishes because society condones partner abuse, and perpetrators learn that they can achieve what they want through the use of force, without facing serious consequences.
  • Abuse takes place because of alcohol or drugs: Substance abuse does not cause domestic violence. However, drugs and alcohol do lower inhibitions while increasing violence to more dangerous levels. But drugs and alcohol use/abuse is an issue that also needs to be addressed anyway.
  • Domestic abuse is none of my business: Like suicide, all abuse is everybody’s business. We would like for others to help if someone close to us was the victim, so we must do the same for others. Besides, silence and passivity would send the message that abuse is ok.

Guyana’s women abuse rate is 57 per 100,000, but over 50% of cases go unreported each year, because women feel a sense of shame and prefer to suffer in silence, blame themselves (sometimes taking their own lives) or remain silent because of the high tolerance for violence. In 2015, the Americas Barometer survey, revealed that acceptance of domestic violence in Guyana is relatively high. The data showed that Guyana was ranked third globally among interviewed countries, with 35.6% of interviewees indicating acceptance/normalizing of domestic violence and reinforcing the view that Guyanese society is abusive. In fact, daily newspaper reports of fighting, injuries and even fatalities, is one manifestation of this. The ongoing spate of robbery with violence with families of perpetrators giving tactic support and benefitting from the ‘spoils’ is yet another manifestation. As well, studies have indicated that Guyanese many women equate a certain level of abuse with love.

Meanwhile 2017 has seen the continuation of another manifestation of an abusive society, the ‘massacre’ of our womenfolk. Here are but a few instances:

  • Savitri Deolall, died from third degree burns that were inflicted by her reputed husband.
  • A 39-year old policewoman was chopped to death by her alleged lover who eventually committed suicide.
  • 37-year-old Lindener, Shenika London, was stabbed multiple times by her husband at her home.
  • 26-year-old teacher, Tishaun Bess, was found hanging from the ceiling of her apartment. Relatives claimed that the relationship shared by the woman and her partner was an abusive one.
  • Dhanwantie Ram, 29, who had to leave her marital home with her three children, a few days before, was found strangled on a sofa, with a bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Her abusive husband of 12 years was arrested for the crime.

In fact thirteen reported domestic violence related murders have been committed for 2017 thus far. As usual, calls for a national conversation and stakeholders collaboration continue to be trotted out. However, there has been a surfeit of talk shops, which eat up resources and produce nothing concrete. Even the recent three-day In-Service Violence Against Women’ training workshop was abstract talk shop oriented instead of hands-on approach applicable in real life situations with concrete positive impact.

On the other hand, stakeholders’ collaboration is just a catchphrase as successive governments reach out to a select few who display political loyalty and are seen as ‘our own’ by the authorities. This was once again evident at the recent three-day In-Service Violence Against Women’ training workshop at which many stakeholders that are active in the field, were not invited. That a nationally embracing policy to stoke stakeholders’ collaboration can make a critical difference goes without saying. Through ‘Voices Against Violence’, a loose umbrella of 60 plus entities, the National Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil has been garnering momentum with 500 vigils held across Guyana over the past two years. Thus, a more structured network, supported by the government, can become both proactive and effective in tackling gender-based violence. Other needed measures, many of them mooted in the media quite often, include:

  • A national safety net for abused persons, to include safe houses for women and children. In fact abused persons should have a mandated right to safe homes while investigations and cases are ongoing and even afterwards if deemed necessary.
  • Special, mandatory court sittings across Guyana to ensure expedited handling of all cases with all police officers trained to display understanding, empathy and diligence and to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with abuse. Investigations must be carried out in such a manner that even if the complainant withdraws the complaint or refuses to testify, the case can still proceed. If yet not in place, a legal mandate to this effect is needed.
  • A mechanism in place to ensure that victims can access financial support for self and children so that financial dependency does not force them to withdraw complaints or refuse to testify. As well the Ministry of Social Protection/University of Guyana need to undertake a study to identify the range of reasons that lead to abused persons withdrawing their complaints or refusing to testify, so that appropriate measures are put in place to address these. No amount of rhetoric alone, will not address this issue.
  • The Gatekeepers’ Program can also encompass abuse in all its forms. Inter ministerial cooperation is therefore urged to urgently bring back this program to ensure gatekeepers/lay counselors in communities across Guyana. In fact, The Caribbean Voice can access a lay counselor trainer for a year if the government is willing to partner with the providing organization.
  • Inclusion of domestic violence in the Family Life and Health curriculum in schools nationally as was discussed in a recent meeting between the Ministry of Education and The Caribbean Voice,.

Last November, the Social Protection Ministry engaged in a tree wrapping exercise and a sensitization and awareness exhibition as violence prevention measures. Just how do these activities redress gender-based violence is anybody’s guess. Like suicide prevention, abuse prevention should cease to be a dog and pony show with scarce resources wasted on pageantry and photo ops. As well Georgetown and Region Four continue to be the center of the vast majority of activities even though issues like gender-based violence are national in nature.

The need therefore, is for a national program of evidence based, abuse prevention strategies interactively delivered, modeled, reinforced by simulations and role play. This is what TCV does through our various free workshops, all five of which include modules on all types of abuse.

Meanwhile we note that the Ministry of Social Protection’s Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit (MSSODVPU) offers a range of services: shelter and temporary accommodation, financial assistance, rehabilitation, skills training, counseling, social work services, legal aid… So why is it that many cases of gender-based abuse continue to fester often with fatal consequenses? For example, a mother of five has been enduring years of domestic abuse, threats to her life, and most recently rape and an acid attack by her 56-year-old ex-reputed husband in spite of repeatedly reaching out to the police. Even reactively this Unit should have been able to help this woman and prevent the recent acid attack and rapes.

Thus, The Caribbean Voice calls upon the Ministry of Social Protection to set up offices in all ten administrative regions and engage in widespread and ongoing promotion as well as collaboration with the police and community based organizations so that its work can become proactively encompassing across Guyana.

The Caribbean Voice can be reached at, or 718-542-4454 (North America) and 644 1152, 646 4649 or 697-9968 (Guyana). As well, log on to our website at to access our many social media pages.




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Book: Slices of Life

Please read my book, ‘Slices of Life’, a collection of short stories and share your views. I need a certain amount of readers to get it published.

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Empathic Communication a viable tool in suicide prevention

As parents and teenagers usually do, a young lady had an argument with her mother. When the mother proceeded to verbally abuse her daughter, as far too many mothers do, the daughter angrily exclaimed ‘Me feel fuh tek wan dose poison”.

The outraged mother responded, ‘Wait deh me go bring am”.

The reality is that any communication between parents and their children can be difficult, but when those children become teenagers, the potential for miscommunication increases greatly. Parents are often bewildered by the sudden changes in their kids and the techniques and communication style that may have worked well before falter in the face of sullen, defiant or indifferent teens.

Natural tension between parents and children is usually the result of the clash between parents desire for the safety, protection, and success of their children, and maturing teenagers’ desire for freedom, autonomy, and being treated as grown-ups. As kids grow from six to sixteen, the skills required for successful parenting change a great deal. But, it is absolutely possible for parents and teens to learn skills that will improve their communication even when the situation or topic is new or difficult although the challenges may seem mountainous.

The key to effective communication with children and teenagers is to listen, “really listen”. Parents must talk with children and not talk at them. Of course there are boundaries but parents must know when to pull and when to push. There are benefits, and most of all, joy in becoming friends with one’s children.

Therefore, what is really needed in our current climate is Empathic Communication. Given the fact that we are now the at the top of the chart globally as it relates to Suicide and Suicide ideations, and right up there with respect to various forms of abuse, there is no better time to look at what is needed and or what is lacking.

The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. ‘Emotion researchers’ generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Emphatic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventual violence.

Empathic communication is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message/words, and then provide an appropriate, non-threatening, affirming response. Through empathetic communication the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.” The effects include building of trust and respect; reduction of tension/conflict; free exchange of information and a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.

In using empathic communication the listener must be attentive, interested alert and strive to create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behavior so that the speaker is neither afraid nor hesitant in communication. The listener must not discount the speaker’s feeling, interrupt the speaker unnecessarily, constantly give advise or lecture the person, criticize or condemn, but must display understanding and sympathy and let the speaker know that together the issues will be addressed.

Most important for parents, is learning to listen effectively rather than talking at teenagers. Lecturing actually doesn’t work well with anyone, and teens tend to explode or shut down. A common misconception parents and teens share is that listening means agreeing. Both parties are given a chance to argue their points of view and eventually come to a worthy compromise. On the contrary, listening opens connection and can lead to successful problem solving.

Almost everyone, including teenagers, responds to genuine interest and curiosity. So if parents show that they want to hear their children’s perspective, ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to the responses, if parents can be fully in the moment and not plan their next responses, teens are often very responsive and open. Teenagers especially have the ability to assert their feelings and if this is stifled by parents’ constant harping about “knowing better and being right” then teenagers will find others to talk to, persons who may have the best intentions but may well be peers facing the same challenges, thereby worsening the situation.

Another transformative technique is learning how to walk away from triggers and hot buttons once they become evident. Both adults and teens can make comments, that send each other “through the roof”, and hinder any real discussion. Slowing down responses, even taking a time out, recognizing triggers, can help teens and adults respond from a saner, less reactive space. So too, avoiding these common forms of communication that block empathy:

  1. Giving Advice/Fixing:Tell the other person what you think they should do. “I think you should leave your boyfriend and find somebody else to be with.”
  2. Analyzing:Interpreting or evaluating a person’s behavior. “I think you are taking this out on your ex-wife when you are actually frustrated about your divorce.”
  3. Storytelling:Moving the focus away from the other and back to your own experience. “I know just how you feel. This reminds me of a time that I…”
  4. Sympathy:Either feeling sorry for other, or sharing my own feelings about what they said. “Oh, you poor thing… I feel so sad for you.”
  5. Reassuring / Consoling:Trying to make the person “feel better” by telling them things will improve. “You might be upset now, but I’m sure you will feel better soon.”
  6. Shutting Down:Discounting a person’s feelings and trying to shift them in another direction. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself,” or, “There is no reason to feel that way!”
  7. Correcting:Giving the person your opinion or belief about a situation. “Wait a minute – I never said that!” or, “You don’t remember this accurately.”
  8. Interrogating:Using questions to ‘figure out’ or change the person’s behavior. “When did this begin?” or, “Why did you decide to do that?” or, “What got into you?”
  9. Commiserating:Agreeing with the speaker’s judgments of others. “I know what you mean – your cousin is one of the biggest jerks I have ever met!”
  10. One-upping:Convincing the speaker that whatever they went through, you had it worse. “You think that’s bad? Let me tell you what happened to me when I was in that situation!”

Parents can’t communicate with their teens lovingly and clearly if they don’t know how. That’s why workshops, coaching sessions, and mediations which help parents and teens learn and practice these techniques are so important. Once parents learn the basic skills, they can begin to apply them to the hard issues they and their teens are facing and prevent any possibility of suicide.

When children feel that they are supported to communicate, they develop natural coping skills, that, regardless of life’s ordeals, can enable and empower them to develop self-esteem and forge ahead with self -confidence.

Far too often the language used has driven loved ones to acts of violence, especially suicide. It is time for Guyanese to realize that the right communication is so essential to protecting and fostering relationships and to ensuring that no one is driven to suicide. Whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness.

Given that the 15 to 25 age group has the highest suicide rate in Guyana and that the this age group also is significantly affected by teenage pregnancy, rape, incest, increasing alcohol and drug use and physical and verbal abuse, it is critical that parents relearn use of language that would not alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste or make them feel, alone and lonely. And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be, on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today. Most importantly, parents need to feel any pain and agony their children suffer and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help things will get better, no matter what leads to the pain and agony.

With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved, parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that everyone makes mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact even adults continue to make mistakes. So when teens make mistakes, parents and loved ones must understand that it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on and parents must first help their teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made, then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And, when necessary, parents must reach for assistance if they feel that they are not fully capable of providing the help needed by their teenagers.

In effect, when that teenager stated that she felt like taking a dose of poison, the mother should have taken a deep breath, rush to hug her daughter and lovingly caution her to never ever say something like that again. A follow up, “do you know how much we love you” would also have been the right words to add.

Meanwhile The Caribbean Voice and its partners strongly recommend that a module in empathetic communication be included at the Teachers’ Training College, be offered as an in-service program for all current teachers, for all who man the social issues landscape, for all security personnel and all healthcare workers. The cost for doing this is negligible whereas the benefits would be immeasurable.

Finally we urge everyone to make full use of the suicide hotline through its various outlets: Landlines: 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444.  What’s App: 600-7896 or 623-4444. Cell: 600-7896, 623-4444. Email: Bbm pin: 2BE55649, 2BE56020. Twitter: @guyanaagency.

As well The Caribbean Voice can be contacted via email:; phone: 718-542-4454 (North America) or 644 1152, 646 4669 (Guyana). Log on to our website

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Mental Health Care Fundamentals

The Caribbean Voice notes that a recent editorial on mental health in a local newspaper was significant for what it omitted as much as what was included. So we offer the following:

The World Health Organization has long stressed the need for mental health care to be decentralized and integrated into primary health care with the necessary tasks carried out, as far as possible, by general healthcare workers rather than by specialists in mental health. This is especially critical in developing nations like Guyana where mental health specialists are in very short supply, but the need for the delivery of mental health care is acute. According to the WHO, “By making health care workers sensitive to the presence of mental health problems and by equipping them with skills to deal with those problems, much wastage of efforts in general health care can be avoided and health care can be made more effective. Furthermore, “research has shown that emotional and psychological distress may be an early manifestation of physical disease processes, or may itself cause such diseases (the mind/body connection).” Thus, “an important concept in primary health care is that health activities should develop horizontally to involve other sectors working within the community…intersectoral collaboration, involving governmental and non-governmental organizations is important in all areas of health.”

In fact this approach has been highly successful in Shri Lanka and Zimbabwe, in particular among many other nations. In Zimbabwe lay health workers are screening for common mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, in primary care in Zimbabwe. For those who screen positive, a lay health worker delivers problem-solving therapy with education and support. Those who received the intervention improve and still look better at 6 months compared to usual outcomes. As well, local community members without formal mental health education can be trained to deliver basic psychotherapy services as is happening in Uganda. One of the first randomized controlled trials for mental health in low and middle income countries was a landmark study of group interpersonal therapy in war-affected Uganda. The intervention led to large and significant reductions in depression for participants.  Given its success, the World Health Organization has made the intervention manual available for widespread dissemination and use in countries around the world.

Incidentally also Chile includes depression treatment in their national insurance plan.  An innovative study in Chile demonstrated that stepped-care for depression in primary care works better than treatment as usual. The intervention, led by non-medical health workers, includes psycho-education, regular follow-up appointments, and medication for individuals with severe depression. The Chilean government has already translated the research into policy. Depression is now a priority health condition, and depression treatment is included in Chile’s national insurance plan. This is certainly something that Guyana needs to consider as a proactive approach to mental health.

Furthermore, The Caribbean Voice is among entities and commentators that have been calling for teachers, police officers, general health care workers, priests, moulvis/imams and pandits as well as social science majors at the University of Guyana to be trained in basic mental health care. In fact, among the attendees at the Launch of our Train the Trainer program at the Imam Bacchus Library Center, Affiance, Essequibo on March 25th, there are religious leaders, educators, police officers and general health care workers. So it is clear that the interest in and willingness to be trained exist. A survey carried out by Dr. Vishnu Bisram, on behalf of The Caribbean Voice in 2016, also indicated that Guyanese in general are quite willing to be trained to help address mental health issues at then community level.

This need for an inclusive, holistic approach to mental heath care is imperative, given that, according to a 2008 WHO report on Guyana, “75,000 to 112,500 Guyanese suffer from mental disorders and require some level of mental health care services. Of these, approximately 22,500 to 37,500 would be expected to suffer from severe mental illness. These projections do not include the number of patients with epilepsy and mental retardation (developmentally disabled), which are not surveyed in typical psychiatric epidemiologic studies, but are included in the population serviced by mental health care services in Guyana.”

As well, it has been pointed out in the local media that, “Mental illness is the major contributor to displacement of the children…It explains the growing band of young criminals who seem to have no regard for life or limb.” It was also recently reported that, “Mental health related illnesses account for more morbidity than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined”.

Also, it is generally accepted that a correlation exists between a nation’s mental health (as a component of overall health) and its economic growth. According to the World Health Organization, the positive impact that health has on growth and poverty reduction occurs through a number of mechanisms, such as a reduction of production losses due to fewer worker illnesses, the increased productivity of adults as a result of better nutrition, lower absenteeism rates and improved learning among school children. This relationship also allows for the use of resources that had been totally or partially inaccessible due to illnesses. Finally, it allows for an alternative use of financial resources that might normally be destined for the treatment of ill health.

Given these realities, it is so important that the collaborative approach to mental health care be regularized across Guyana instead of being applied in a piecemeal, random manner. For example, there is one social and welfare office located at Anna Regina in Region Two, manned by three probation officers and one child protection officer. Additionally, that region also has an advocacy centre which offers forensic interviews, crisis intervention, counseling, trauma focused therapy, parenting sessions, child and family advocacy, referrals (medical examination), social services, case review, tracking, and education and prevention – teenage pregnancy, gender based violence. Why not have both centers offer the full range of combined services as well as services related to other mental health issues such as suicide, alcoholism, rape and incest, drug use and so on? And why not expand the child advocacy centers in Regions Two, Three, Four and Five to include this entire set of services as well? Already these centers bring together, in one place, professionals involved in the investigation and treatment of suspected child abuse cases as well as those who provide support to victims, witnesses and their families, so some of the required staff would already be in place for the additional services.

As well, where possible, buildings owned by NGOs can be used to set up such similar centers. For example the New Jersey Arya Samaj Humanitarian Mission’s Port Mourant Center is available according to by Pandit Suresh Sugrim. And The Caribbean Voice is aware that other such buildings may also be available for this purpose and can help to source them. This level of collaboration would save capital expenses and maximize resource deployment and utilization, while ensuring the delivery of quality mental health care, especially when operating in tandem with a decentralized and integrated primary health care system. Additionally, it can be the basis on which every region can have at least two such offices as probably a short to midterm plan.

Simultaneously, while the government must be commended for its intention to undertake minor repairs to the National Psychiatric Hospital, it is quite disappointing that much needed rehabilitation will not commence anytime soon. This, in spite of the fact that the Region Six Health Committee Chairman, Haseef Yusuf, has disclosed that the condition of the institution is inhumane and it is equipped with supplies of poor and sub-standard quality; an inoperable canteen; an acute shortage of basic items in the kitchen; leaky roofs; no fans are in the ward; shortage of beds; dysfunctional washrooms; and a deplorable laundry facility, including shortage of clothe-lines. Additionally, there are issues such as a huge, unfenced gas tank next to the kitchen, lengthy delays in processing purchase orders, the constant flooding of the compounds, among others.

Alarmingly too, the myth that dealing with counseling and the psych ward or the psychiatric institution means someone is ‘mad’, holds tremendous sway in Guyana and that may be why transparent and obvious warning signs are ignored by care givers and loved ones. Far too often, after a suicide, we hear or read that so and so had talked about wanting to take his or her life but those around him/her thought he/she was joking and/or did not take that person seriously. Thus TCV strongly urges the Ministry of Health to embark on a sustained education campaign to combat this myth. As well, we urge the Ministry of Health to make sure that mental health professionals are available 24/7 at public hospitals, especially where there are psych wards and that mechanisms, including signage providing directions, be put in place to make access to such wards easy and quick for anyone seeking help, given that delays and consequential frustration/anger can lead to loss of lives.





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Self Esteem and Coping Skills

In 2000, a landmark study – The Shadow of Death: A recent study of suicides in Guyana, Incidence, Causes and Solutions – reported that the majority of those committing suicide were young males below the age of 35 years. They were likely to be poorly educated, employed in low-income occupations, reside in the same community all their lives and to be less likely to have children.

In Guyana almost all suicides are committed by ingesting poisons, especially agri-based and by hanging and are the results of abusive and dysfunctional relationships; teenage affairs and pregnancy; rape and incest; an inability to deal with problems/challenges and/or unbearable pain – physical or emotional – which generally give rise to awful agony and depression and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness and loneliness. Suicidal mindsets are prone to copycatting, a practice referred to as the Werther Effect and catalyzed by alcoholism; lack of empathetic communication and low levels of self-acceptance and/or feelings of inadequacy.

What all of this points to is transparent, even though minimally addressed especially by government – low self esteem and lack of coping skills. Self-esteem is the internal knowledge that people are capable of handling anything that life throws at them. Self-esteem is a feeling of self-worth and an understanding that everyone are capable human beings who are strong and resilient. People with a high level of self esteem are confident in their abilities; handle stress and problems well and are able to hold their heads up high and feel good about them even when they screw up.

According to Yahoo! Answers, “Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself. High self-esteem is a good opinion of oneself, and low self-esteem is a bad opinion of oneself. The way people feel about themselves, has a huge affect on the way they treat themselves, and others, and on the kinds of choices they make. It affects how we think and act and how we react to challenges. It has a direct bearing on one’s happiness and wellbeing.”

Writing on the website PsychCentral, Elizabet Venzin quotes psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Solomons, who wrote the book Born to be Worthless: The Hidden Power of Low Self-Esteem, as saying, “Low self-esteem can get us to make self-destructive decisions such as tolerating mistreatment or harming ourselves (by using drugs, becoming promiscuous, developing eating disorders or indulging in cosmetic surgery), or harming others (bullying, cheating) in an effort either to make others love us or to numb us to the pain of our own worthlessness.”

Also, if a child has low-self esteem, he/she likely won’t feel comfortable around new people or situations and may tend to avoid anything unfamiliar. Often, he/she will be hesitant to take risks or move out of his/her comfort zone. With this type of behavior, the child may miss valuable social opportunities and situations where to learn and grow.

Low self-esteem in children often is the result of abuse, dysfunctional family relationships and lack of emphatic communication, all of which are significantly exist on Guyana’s social landscape. Without being provided with coping skills to deal with low self-esteem, such children may grow up into adults who then become abusive, depressed and suicidal.

In effect, low self-esteem is a precursor to abuse of all types as well as violence. It also results in depression and anxiety, both of which lead to suicide. For these reasons developing self-esteem and coping skills play a critical part of all training carried out by The Caribbean Voice (TCV). Current training programs are the:

  • Youth and Student Workshop, which has been presented to a number of schools and youth groups and which has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education which plans to make it part of the Health and Family Life Education curriculum in schools. A train the trainer session is currently being planned for West Coast Berbice to be attended by youth representatives who can they pass on the training to their groups and schools. A similar session will follow on the East Coast of Demerara;
  • Teacher Training Workshop, which was launched on March third this year on the East Bank of Demerara and which has already been requested by a number of schools. This program provides teachers with skills and the capacity to develop their own mental toughness and be able to deal with emotional and psychological problems their students face. This too has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education, which has offered to collaborate and get social workers involved in its implementation.
  • Train the Trainer Workshop, which was launched in collaboration with Imam Bacchus & Sons at Affiance, Essequibo, on February 25th this year. This workshop trains others to become trainers for gatekeepers and to turnkey their training to their various communities and entities with which they are associated. The demand for this program is also great and it will be taken to all regions over time, with East Berbice being the next stop.
  • Employee Mental Health Workshop, which helps workers at various companies to be able to deal with stress and challenges and emotional and psychological issues. This will be launched later this month in Georgetown and then offered to businesses nationwide.
  • Community Outreach, launched in 2014 and since taken to a number of communities, often in collaboration with other NGOs, Community Based Organizations and/or faith Based Organizations. Next stop is Wales, where the scope for widespread depression exists as a result of the closure of the sugar estate.

It is important to note that TCV is a fully voluntary, fully self-funded organization, which receives no grants of any kind from anywhere. Our trainers are highly qualified and experienced professionals, who, as member of The Caribbean Voice, also volunteer their times, efforts and expertise. However, training sessions are often supported by local business entities that recognize the critical need for the work of The Caribbean Voice.

It is also important to note that TCV’s work is widespread. In fact TCV is in the process of setting up regional subgroups; such groups already in exist in Regions One, Two, Three, For and Five. This structure enables concurrent planning and implementation, constrained only by time and resources.

Training has and continues to be supported by media advocacy. And so through this column, TCV takes this opportunity to provide some coping skills that build self-esteem:

  • Spend time with people who like you and care about you.
  • Select good role models
  • Ignore (and stay away from) people who put you down or treat you badly.
  • Focus on your achievements rather than on your failures.
  • Prepare thoroughly for any task so that you can be sure you are ready.
  • Maintain good health habits, eat well, get enough sleep.
  • Don’t misuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Pace yourself, take a break, learn to relax by doing simple exercises.
  • Focus on who you are and what you like about yourself. Why do your friends like you?
  • Do things that you enjoy or that make you feel good.
  • Do things you are good at.
  • Reward yourself for your successes.
  • Develop your talents.
  • Be your own best friend – treat yourself well and do things that are good for you.
  • Make good choices for yourself, and don’t let others make your choices for you.
  • Take responsibility for yourself, your choices, and your actions.
  • Always do what you believe is right. Be true to yourself and your values.
  • Respect other people and treat them right.
  • Set goals and work to achieve them.
  • Talk to someone who can get you professional help if needed or contact The Caribbean Voice.

Meanwhile TCV notes that numerous opportunities for instilling self-esteem and coping skills that have/are not been taken advantage of. Some of these include:

  • A four- year Community Crime and Violence Prevention programme as the first component of the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) of the Ministry of Public Security, which is expected to benefit 4000 youths and adolescents. It noted that young people in ‘at risk’ communities will benefit from several training initiatives meant to improve their skill level, and livelihood, with the aim of reducing crime and violence in their communities. A major part of the project will focus on empowering young people through technical and vocational training to develop entrepreneurial skills.
  • The Ministry of Social Cohesion’s Diversity Education and Inclusion Workshop Training of Trainers workshop, whereby a core team of trained personnel, will then train over 700 citizens to become social cohesion advocates.
  • The Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) Programme, which trained 99 youths and 19 facilitators from six villages in Region 10, to be able to learn several skills, which will have long-term financial benefits.
  • The Diversity Education and Inclusion Regional Training Workshop involving stakeholders from faith-based organisations and women’s groups, senior secondary school students, regional officers, members of civil society and community development officers, held and being held at various locations throughout Guyana.

How about also including training modules on self-esteem, self-worth and coping skills so that these persons will be better equipped to deal with stresses and challenges? Using these kinds of training programs to incorporate self esteem and coping skills would mean that participants would become mentally stronger and more self confident as well as much more equipped to handle the stresses and strains involved in their daily lives and tasks. And this kind of piggybacking would demand very, very minimal or even no cost in some cases.

As Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997), psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor famously said in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The Caribbean Voice can be contacted via email:; phone: 718-542-4454 (North America) or 644 1152, 646 4669 (Guyana). Log on to our website or contact any of our members us via Facebook.



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Alcohol is not a root cause for abuse; it’s a trigger

Post on facebook recently: “International Women’s Day event at Theatre Guild organised by UG and UNICEF…I told them the main culprit was alcohol abuse, reduce it and you will reduce domestic abuse, suicide, noise, drunk driving, etc etc.”

Comment on the post: “I totally agree. Alcohol is the root cause of all acts of violence, abuse, etc..”

Another commentator added: “Alcoholism as one of the main causes of domestic violence has been known for ages.”

When the original poster and those who commented on his post were informed that alcohol is not a root cause of abuse but a trigger they vehemently disagreed and, instead, continued to perpetuate the long held myth.

The reality, however, is that while there have been many studies done, there is no scientific evidence indicating a cause-and-effect relationship between substance (alcohol, drugs) abuse and gender based violence. Some abusers rely on substance use (and abuse) as an excuse for becoming violent. Alcohol allows the abuser to justify his abusive behavior as a result of the alcohol. While an abuser’s use of alcohol may have an effect on the severity of the abuse or the ease with which the abuser can justify his actions, an abuser does not become violent “because” drinking causes him to lose control of his temper.

The reality is that domestic violence is used to exert power and control over another, is often a learned behavior but is never the result of loss of control. In an abusive relationship, the batterer uses the pattern of tactics described in the Power and Control Wheel (see attached image) to reinforce the use of physical violence.

Violent incidents are not isolated instances of a loss of control, or even cyclical expressions of anger and frustration. Rather, each instance is part of a larger pattern of behavior designed to exert and maintain power and control over the victim. In fact, research indicates that a large quantity of alcohol, or any quantity for alcoholics, can increase the user’s sense of personal power and domination over others. An increased sense of power and control can, in turn, make it more likely that an abuser will attempt to exercise that power and control over another.

Also, alcohol does affect the user’s ability to perceive, integrate and process information. This distortion in the user’s thinking does not cause violence, but may increase the risk that the user will misinterpret his partner or another’s behavior. Additionally, substance abuse may increase the aggressive response of individuals with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Research also indicates that there may be a correlation between the risk of domestic violence and certain personality characteristics. For example, alcohol abuse may increase the risk of violence in men who think abuse of women is appropriate and are also under socioeconomic hardship. Furthermore, a 1991 study in the United States found that the average amount of alcohol consumed prior to the use of violence was only a few drinks, which “suggests that the act of drinking may be more related to woman abuse than the effect of alcohol.”

In short, there is, “no evidence that batterers… socialization or choice-making processes are not operational when using substances.” Thus, abusers follow their own “internal rules and regulations about abusive behaviors” that may include destroying property, relying on threats of abuse, and threatening children. Through these decisions, “perpetrators are making choices about what they will or will not do to the victim, even when they are claiming they ‘lost it’ or were ‘out of control.’ Such decision-making indicates that they are actually in control of their abusive behaviors.” (Anne L. Ganley & Susan Schechter, Domestic Violence: A National Curriculum for Family Preservation Practitioners; 1995).

In effect then, domestic violence and substance abuse should be understood and treated as independent problems: “[T]he reduction of one problem to the familiar language and interventions of the other problem is ill-advised” (Anne L. Ganley & Susan Schechter). Most importantly also, the myth that alcohol is a cause of domestic violence needs to be laid to rest, so that the concept of gender based violence can be understood for what it is.

The fact is that abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic background.

Some people with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control their partner, and that women aren’t equal to men. Others may have an undiagnosed personality disorder or psychological disorder. Still others may have learned this behavior from growing up in a household where domestic violence was accepted as a normal part of being raised in their family.

Studies suggest that violent behavior often is caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors. That means that abusers learn violent behavior from their family, people in their community and other cultural influences as they grow up. They may have seen violence often or they may have been victims themselves. Some abusers acknowledge growing up having been abused as a child.

Children who witness or are the victims of violence may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. Boys who learn that women are not to be valued or respected and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimized by their own husbands.

On a final note The Caribbean Voice holds no brief for alcohol use. In fact anti-alcoholism is one of the pillars of our platform and perhaps the only non-alcoholic reception in Guyana is the one held at the Annual El Dorado Awards which is set for July this year at the Marriot Hotel in Georgetown.


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The Media and Mental Health Coverage

The Caribbean Voice notes a letter recently in the print media calling for legislation to prevent media reportage on suicide from fostering the Werther Effect or copycatting. The fact is that the media has an important role to play in influencing social attitudes towards and perceptions of suicide and mental illness and must ensure appropriate reporting of suicide and mental illness in order to minimise harm and copycat behaviour; and, reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness.

To ensure that media avoid counter-productive coverage, Guyana’s Ministry of Health should, at a minimum, consistently and continually release guidelines for media that recommend press reduce suicide reporting overall; exclude information on suicide methods; avoid implying that suicide is “caused” by any single factor or event (such as bullying), and keep the word “suicide” out of headlines. These guidelines should suggest things to avoid and convey when writing about suicide.


  • Details of the method
  • The word “suicide” in the headline
  • Photo(s) of the deceased
  • Admiration of the deceased
  • The idea that suicide is unexplainable
  • Repetitive or excessive coverage
  • Front page coverage
  • Exciting reporting
  • Romanticized reasons for the suicide
  • Simplistic reasons for the suicide
  • Approval of the suicide


  • Alternatives to suicide (i.e. treatment)
  • Community resource information for those with suicidal ideation
  • Examples of a positive outcome of a suicidal crisis (i.e. calling a suicide hotline)
  • Warning signs of suicidal behaviour
  • How to approach a suicidal person including use of emphatic communication.
  • Strategies to build self esteem and provide coping skills.

Also we suggest the successful Mindframe National Media Initiative in Australia as a model that that can be adapted for Guyana. Perhaps the University of Guyana can be approached to house such an initiative and to reach out to stakeholders nationwide to ensure its successful implementation.

The Mindframe Initiative is a comprehensive strategy that aims to influence media representation of issues related to mental illness and suicide and encourage responsible, accurate and sensitive portrayals. The strategy includes a number of projects which focus on providing resources and education opportunities for media professionals, the mental health and suicide prevention sector, police, courts and people involved in Australian film, television and theatre. It also involves strategies to facilitate the inclusion of these issues in tertiary journalism and public relations education, supporting a community action site and helping to build the evidence base for this work.




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