Tackling mental health issues
…decriminalise suicide now– PAHO/WHO Rep
Funding allocated to the Mental Health Unit is inadequate and does not support a fair fight in tackling mental health issues. As such, much more in needed to be able to combat the scourge of suicide and other mental illnesses, according to Pan
American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Representative Dr William Adu-Krow.
“Ministry of Public Health and the other sectors that deal in this area need funding. (I told the) Mental Health Unit in 2011 they have 0.11% of the health fund. By 2017, that number has risen to 1.16% — that is 10 times, but still very low. We still have a long way to go, let’s do more,” he advised.
Dr Adu-Krow made the plea on Wednesday at the exchange with Parliamentarians and staff of the Parliament Office on Suicide, hosted by the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Social Services, in collaboration with PAHO/WHO and the United Nations.
He advised that better surveillance systems be put in place to address the scourge of suicide, and called for better monitoring practices. Saying that persons who attempted suicide are likely to complete the action at a later date, he called for more attention to be paid to such persons, and for them to be monitored. The methods used to intervene in the situations should also be analyzed, he said.
Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Karen Cummings, said the forum allows Parliamentarians to retrospect, introspect, and look for innovative ways to further strengthen prevention and control efforts, in order to address the scourge of suicide.
“Much work needs to be done as we seek to move further down the international rating of suicide. Since 2012, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 16-44. Females attempted suicide more than males in a ratio of 3:1; East Indians have accounted for 50%, and Africans 26%,” the minister said.
Strategic areas for intervention, risk factors’ reduction, health promotion and prevention, reduction of access to the means of suicide, health systems’ response to suicide behaviour, and surveillance and research were some of the intervention methods the minister highlighted.
The Laws of Guyana – the Criminal Law Offences Act Cap 8:01 and the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act Cap 8:02 – criminalise the act of suicide.
In 2016, Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Vindhya Persaud tabled a motion in Parliament calling for the decriminalisation of suicide. Members of the Government side, namely Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister within the Public Health Ministry, Dr Karen Cummings, supported the decriminalisation of the act, but later voted down the motion for being too ‘politicised’.
However, a study conducted by the Rights of the Child Commission with the support of UNICEF Guyana called for the review of those two pieces of legislation, along with the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Act Cap 68:09, the Customs Act Cap 82:01, the Mental Hospital Ordinance Cap 140, and the Food and Drugs Act Cap 34:03.
Dr. Adu-Krow reiterated that position, and said that when criminal penalties are attached to the act of committing or attempting to commit suicide, it would only push someone to complete the act.
“This act does not give any provision for dealing with any survivor of a suicide act. This act, if such a person escapes prosecution, then it encourages (that) person to commit suicide, because it says that they will be in jail for life,” he noted.
In giving the stats, Director of the Mental Health Unit, Dr Util Thomas, said that for 2017, the MoPH recorded 59 cases of suicide while the Police recorded a staggering 92 cases. She noted that the MoPH’s data is incomplete, since they are yet to receive statistics from various parts of the country.
The Unit has rolled out its National Self-Harm Surveillance System in Regions Two, Three, and Six.
Dr Thomas said the Unit chose the three regions to pilot the programme because of the high numbers of suicide cases recorded there, and that is just one way of combating suicide. The Surveillance System would mandate hospitals to report all cases of suicide and attempted suicide to the unit within one week of their occurrence. And once reported, attempted suicide cases would be monitored and persons would be psychiatrically evaluated to ensure that all bases are covered.