The Caribbean Voice wonders why Ms Annie Balliram (whose letter was recently published in the local media) is casting doubt on the 2015 suicide rate for Guyana, which shows a reduction from 44.2 to 30.6 per 1000,000, and not all or any other previous rates. After all, it is the same global organisation, WHO, that has been putting out these rates annually using the same yardsticks, processes and methodologies et al. According to Ms. Balliram, “a significant reduction in suicide can come about only by addressing the abnormally high levels of stress arising out of the catastrophic social, economic and political conditions. Stress mechanistically drives suicide directly or indirectly by disrupting brain functions, thereby unleashing mental illness (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, etc.) or substance abuse (e.g. alcoholism), or both. Stress basically hijacks the brain in eliciting suicidal behaviours.”
This limited characterisation by Ms Balliram runs counter to the complete picture, which, in the context of Guyana, indicates the following: Prone to copycatting, a practice referred to as the Werther Effect, suicide ideation is the result of depression and/or anxiety triggered by helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness and loneliness. These triggers are catalyzed by low levels of self-acceptance and/or feelings of inadequacy/low self-esteem, as a result of abusive and dysfunctional relationships; lack of empathetic communication, teenage affairs and pregnancy; rape and incest; an inability to deal with problems (lack of coping skills) and/or unbearable pain – physical or emotional – poverty, unemployment and substance abuse (and to a significantly lesser degree psychosis, bipolar disorder and some other mental illnesses).
If Ms Balliram had taken the time to get the facts, rather than merely speculate, she would have learnt about the work done by NGOs like The Caribbean Voice (in August alone: three mental health outreaches and three workshops in three different regions, costing over 0,000; two feature articles and six letters in the local media based on researched data; suicide prevention messages daily on radio and TV in all three counties; extensive – tens of thousands of views and thousands of interactions – social media information dissemination and advocacy; twelve counselling cases handled, and a number of meetings to explore collaboration and plan upcoming activism; Monique’s Helping Hands, Guyana Foundation, the Mibicuri Community Developers, the Counselling Center at Corriverton established by ex-magistrate Krishnadat Persaud, the St. Francis Community Developers, Prevention of Teen Suicide (POTS), Help & Shelter, Red Thread, Crossroads Counselling & Mental Health Services and a host of others who give their time, efforts, skills and resources, many on a voluntary and all on an ongoing basis, to address all the triggers their cause and result in suicide ideation and suicide).
The work of these suicide prevention entities is holistic, comprising counselling and follow-up, training of first responders and gatekeepers (to foster the community support through proactive interventions and follow-up), information dissemination and awareness building (including safe use and storage of pesticides), advocacy and lobbying (that led to the establishment of the suicide helpline, and that is focusing on a range of other measures, including counsellors in schools), a lot of it through stakeholders’ collaboration. In effect, interventions are neither a ‘band aid’ approach nor are they ‘marginal’; and they certainly do not result in merely ‘transient gains’.
While we agree that a lot more needs to be done, we are confident that, in total, the impact of the work of these NGOs and activists, combined with the incremental work done by Government, especially by the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs in the hinterland areas and the Ministry of Public Health through the MPH/GAP training and other measures, would certainly justify the suicide rate reduction from 44.2 to 30.6 per 100,000. Besides, both a content analysis of the media and empirical and anecdotal data garnered by The Caribbean Voice and other stakeholders do actually support this level of reduction.
The Caribbean Voice does agree with Ms Balliram that genetics has a role in suicide. However, that is still to be clearly defined. Besides, there are differences regarding this in the scientific world, with some dubbing it a controversial issue, stating that because of the complexity of suicide, more studies, data and replication are needed. In effect, the tests to identify potential risks in order to develop treatment modalities are still a long way off, and thus cannot impact suicide prevention anywhere in the world anytime soon.
Meanwhile, we are happy that Ms. Balliran has taken such a keen interest in suicide prevention in Guyana. Now The Caribbean Voice invites her to walk with us on this journey to save lives and empower people, so her passion can take concrete manifestation and so she would become aware of the reality on the ground, and not ignore, disregard and/or negate the tremendous work of suicide prevention organizations and activists, which will not only continue, but expand in time.
The Caribbean Voice