Suicide prevention continues to operate at level of rhetoric

Dear Editor,
While The Caribbean Voice awaits suicide figures for 2017, we must point out that even though such figures may well indicate a decline over the previous year because of the work of all stakeholders, they would invariably be rather conservative. This is because as the World Health Organisation has pointed out, 25 per cent or more of suicides are generally unreported and because, in the case of Guyana, reportage is also affected by the still strongly held taboo (family dishonour) and attempts that ensure that many suicides are reported as otherwise.
That being said, The Caribbean Voice notes the Health Ministry’s ‘suicide deterrent measures’ with a certain degree of skepticism. For one, efforts to ensure that existing laws and regulations regarding pesticide sale, use and storage, are being enforced, will have no impact unless these attempts are part of a concerted pesticide suicide prevention strategy, such as the Shri Lankan Hazard Reduction Model, which has been lobbied for by The Caribbean Voice since 2015, and which is, by far, the most successful pesticide suicide reduction plan ever. We strongly believe that should Guyana approach the World Health Organisation, a similar level of assistance may be offered as was available to Shri Lanka.
While we applaud plans to increase the number of beds added to the inpatient service offered at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s psychiatry ward, may we point out that Georgetown is not Guyana and such a service must be offered at every public hospital in Guyana at the minimum to have any kind of impact, especially since the much touted plan to rebuild the National Psychiatric Hospital in Berbice, seems to have fallen off the radar screen.
Meanwhile, we commend plans to incorporate important mental health topics into the Health and Family Life Education syllabus in secondary schools, a call that was mooted by The Caribbean Voice almost two years ago. However, we hope this plan will not follow the fate of Counsellors in schools, which was top priority when the Government got into power, only to be subsequently relegated to ‘a few years down the road’. The fact is that The Caribbean Voice and other non-governmental stakeholders have been continually working with schools and students and everywhere the appeal is the same – ‘our students need so much help, please come back as often as possible’. In fact, one school we visited recently asked us to go back weekly as well as to devise and implement training for teachers.
In effect, at the Government level, suicide prevention continues to operate at the level of rhetoric with intermittent, isolated, one off, piecemeal action, here and there, and all the talk about stakeholders collaboration is just that, as most of the stakeholders – entity and individuals – that actually are doing consistent, collaborative work are being ignored or sidelined.
For example, over the past two years, The Caribbean Voice, a totally voluntary non-governmental organisation, has undertaken more than 150 successful and free counselling interventions in Guyana, most of them based either on direct appeals or referrals. We will be launching our Train the Trainer Programme to get gatekeepers into every community as quickly as possible since promises to bring back this programme have ended the way of all other promises. Yet, The Caribbean Voice continues to be blanked by the Education Ministry (among other Government entities) in our attempts to obtain permission to visit schools as requests are made, to launch a national essay contest for youth and students and to train teachers in classroom management without corporal punishment.
Meanwhile the Government’s suicide hotline seems to have been relegated to the back burner and to date, no official statistics indicating its extensive and successful use have been released; most public hospitals are still to be serviced by psychologists or clinical counsellors; the National Suicide Plan is still awaiting daylight, the Gatekeepers Programme seems a lost cause. What about a registry of sex offenders? Peer counsellors in schools? A national parenting programme to instil empathetic communication and parenting skills to combat the high level of dysfunction that contributes to suicide and violence on the whole? Trained domestic violence/suicide prevention personnel, or personnel with basic training in mental health or social work, at every Police station? And so on….?

Annan Boodram
The Caribbean Voice