It should come as no surprise to anyone that many persons suffer from the debilitating epidemic that is suicide. Guyana is touted as the country with the highest per capita rate of suicide in the Caribbean and around the world.
Just two days ago, a 36-year-old pharmacist ended her life; about a month ago, a 19-year-old woman was found dead in her Lusignan, East Coast Demerara apartment.
It seems regardless of how hard we try to prevent this scourge, persons, regardless of their expected wisdom and age, are finding it necessary to go down this route.
In Guyana’s case, some theorists have argued that suicide is so rampant because of “widespread illiteracy, inadequate health care, soaring joblessness, deep poverty, dysfunctional politics, bloated corruption, protracted alcoholism, high prevalence of mental health issues, abuse, turbulent ethnic/race relations, marginalisation and a succession of dysfunctional governments”.
Policy-makers and social activists felt relieved in early 2022 when the reported suicide rate declined (by 21.7 per cent) between 2016 (23.4 per 100,000) and 2021 (18.3 per 100,000), partly in response to initiatives linked to the Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2015-2020 (NSPS), and National Mental Health Action Plan 2015-2020, as well as to the work of NGOs; but the suicide problem persists, and remains significant.
Studies on suicide show that proportionately (i) more Indo-Guyanese (80 per cent) die of suicide than any other ethnic group; (ii) the youthful population are at greater risk of suicide than the older folks; (iii) males have a higher rate than females; (iv) more suicides occur in rural areas; (v) a higher proportion of Hindus die of suicide compared with other religious groups: of the 101 suicide cases in which religious affiliation was identified, Kay Shako reports that Hindus comprised 49.5 per cent, Muslims 8.9 per cent, Christians 35.6 per cent, and Others 5.9 per cent; (vi) poisoning and hanging were the most common methods used in the suicidal act.
Data on suicide for 2017-2021 as well as on suicide attempts alter the conventional profile of suicides among Guyanese. The national proportion of Indo-Guyanese who died of suicide fluctuated from 65.2 per cent in 2018 to 50.7 cent in 2019, to 63.9 per cent in 2020 and to 73.1 per cent in 2021. There have been significant changes in the age structure of persons of all ethnic groups who died of suicide.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) posits that more than 800,000 persons commit suicide every year, equivalent to one death every 40 seconds.
Contrary to what many may think, persons who commit suicide or persons who show the signs – for example: saying that they want to die or are willing to take their lives – do not really want to kill themselves. Research has shown that people who talk about committing suicide are really reaching out for help since they might be suffering from anxiety, depression and hopelessness which might be occasioned by a multitude of factors, such as job loss, discrimination and even an unstable economic environment, among many others.
According to the health body, suicide impacts the most vulnerable of the world’s population and is highly prevalent in already marginalised and discriminated groups of society. “It is not just a serious public health problem in developed countries; in fact, most suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries where resources and services, if they do exist, are often scarce and limited for early identification, treatment and support of people in need. These striking facts and the lack of implemented timely interventions make suicide a global public health problem that needs to be tackled imperatively.”
The WHO has identified a host of measures to be used that might mitigate the prevalence of suicide; some of which are creating national strategies for suicide prevention; restricting access to the most common means of suicide, including pesticides, firearms and certain medicines; incorporating suicide prevention as a central component in health services; providing medical follow-ups for persons who have attempted suicide; identifying and treating mental health and substance abuse disorders as early as possible; and responsible reporting on suicide by the news media.
The Government, over the years, has instituted a host of mechanisms to deal with the epidemic, including incorporating mechanisms advanced by the WHO, but suicide still remains a predominant feature in the tapestry of Guyana’s fabric.
Some scholars have argued that the mechanisms that are being advanced will do no good for Guyana since they are only addressing the symptoms of suicide and not the disease.