The suicide of Linkin Park lead vocalist, Chester Bennington, has left fans throughout the world reeling. Many never saw it coming. But in Guyana, this country has been confronting this public health issue for quite some time.
According to updated statistics provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Guyana is overall the fourth leading country in the world with deaths by suicide. On a per capita basis, Guyana is actually the most suicide prone country.
It does not have to be this way. Over the years, the Health Ministry and now renamed Public Health Ministry, has either launched initiatives to combat suicide or partnered with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to bring awareness to the general public and offer solutions.
This publication encountered one such collaborative initiative recently. We encountered the Mental Health Unit of the Public Health Ministry, which is the recognised authority treating and counselling patients suffering from mental illnesses.
Representatives of the Unit were present at a health fair held at the Courtyard Mall, Robb Street, Georgetown, that was arranged by Home Care Solutions, a private company started by young entrepreneur Abbigale Loncke. Loncke was one of four Guyanese selected to take part in former President Barack Obama’s 2016 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI).
These representatives gave some insight into the causes of suicide and preventative measures that concerned family and friends can take.
For one, suicide is often preceded with signs in the victim’s life that all is not well. According to Mental Health Officer, Malinda Blaise, one of the biggest warning signs is someone withdrawing themself from the company of friends and family.
“So basically, (one) of the warning signs that you’re going to see is isolation,” she explained. “Also one of the biggest ones is you might see someone giving away prized possessions (or) someone who is surprisingly, very happy.”
And then there is depression. The term depression, which comes from the Latin verb deprimere meaning “to press down”, is a mental disorder linked to physical symptoms such as loss of appetite and weight, head and body aches and digestive problems. It is also linked to suicide.
“Depression is one of the major indicators of suicide,” Blaise said. “So when you see someone (displaying) the symptoms of depression, like isolation, withdrawal, feeling sad or blue for three weeks or more, they’re not interacting, they’re not doing the things that they use to love, those are the signs you want to be looking for.”
At the other side of the spectrum, even sudden happiness can be an indicator of suicidal intent. Blaise explained that the belief that someone who was very happy cannot be a victim of suicide was actually a misconception. Sometimes, she noted, a fleeting burst of happiness can precede someone taking their own life.
“People say, well I would never have imagined she or he or they would do this, because they were so happy. And often times the reason they were so happy is because they knew they were about to take their own lives and they don’t have to deal with the stress.”
In recognising signs, the Unit also gave advice to persons on what to do if they see the signs exhibited by someone. According to another staff at the Mental Health Unit, Ms James, family is usually the first to observe a change in a suicidal person’s routine. James described a formerly outgoing individual suddenly ensconced in their room, as a red flag.
“When someone recognises those signs, they can do an intervention as a family,” she said. “In Guyana, we put (red flags) aside and say, they will get over it. They don’t get over it. So what you should do is try to get them to come out.”
“Get them back to doing their normal routine,” James advised. “Sometimes family cannot do that because is hard, they don’t listen to family. So you can get a professional involved. Health centres have doctors (and) nurses trained in mental health issues.”
She advised that persons seek recourse at the Georgetown Public Hospital if these interventions were unsuccessful. But the health worker stressed that whatever one does, ignoring signs of depression and suicide in someone on the assumption that it was a phase was the wrong thing to do.
“You don’t ignore. You don’t put aside. You do something. Tell someone. You may know a nurse, a doctor. (Tell them) your family is like this, not eating, not drinking, doesn’t want to bathe and all of these things. Don’t say it will pass over, because often times it (leads) to self-harm.”
She noted too the importance of recognising that a person with suicidal tendencies may be going through trouble in their lives not necessarily brought on by mental illness. James posited that the resolution of these problems may be all that is needed to lift an individual out of depression.
James also linked alcohol abuse to depression. She stated that while men may be averse to talking about their problems out of fear that their masculinity will be questioned, they too can hurt and may turn to drinking for comfort instead of confronting the source of that hurt.
There is always help for potential victims. One example of easily accessible help is a youth group called the Red Ribbon Guyana that launched a social media campaign about suicide prevention. That campaign had been specifically tailored for youths, allowing them to write about why they loved their life and to facilitate an open discussion about suicide.
And of course, there is the Guyana Interagency Suicide Prevention Help Line. It can be reached on telephone numbers 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444; email: [email protected], BBM PINS: 2BE55649, 2BE56020 Twitter: guyanaagency; WhatsApp: +592-600-7896, 592-623-4444.