Suicide: it seems to be fast becoming the ultimate answer for every kind of problem. Driven by a range of factors, suicide is often times linked with alcoholism, abusive and triangular relationships and teenage pregnancy. In fact, Guyana has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the Caribbean. Also, the average Guyanese drinker consumes 13.7 litres of pure alcohol each year with 6.1% of the population considered heavy drinkers (2010 figures). With respect to domestic violence, of the more than 60 per cent of women who were involved in a relationship or union, 27.7 per cent reported physical abuse, 26.3 per cent had experienced verbal abuse and 12.7 per cent experienced sexual violence (Kaieteur News, Jan 17, 2012).
Additionally, while suicide happens everywhere, for a nation with about three quarters of a million people, Guyana has the fourth highest suicide rate in the world, with 26.4 suicides per 100,000 people (2006 figures). Eight out of every 10 suicide deaths are males; three out of every four suicide deaths are East Indians; the suicide rates are higher in Region Two (Pomeroon/ Supenaam) and Region Six (East Berbice Corentyne); two of every three persons who commit suicide in Guyana are young persons below the age of 35; and young adults 15 to 24 years are over represented among those who commit suicide. (1991 figures that may be different today, especially with regard to ethnicity and gender.) In fact in the first 20 days of this year 20 people committed suicide while several others attempted suicide.
Given this stark reality, it is commendable that Health Minister, Dr Bheri Ramsarran, has declared suicide a mental health problem and a cultural issue. The reality, however, is that suicide is more a public health problem and a national social issue as pointed out since 1999 by clinical and forensic psychiatrist, Dr Frank Beckles.
The Minister’s recognition that a multi-sectoral approach is needed must now lead to an actual concerted action plan to make this approach a reality. As it is, what currently exists is piecemeal and intermittent, at best. And because it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel or duplicate efforts, the Minister should seek to harness all entities and efforts, locally and in the diaspora, that are already involved in some form, in suicide prevention, as well as all those stakeholders that can have a role to play – religious institutions, NGOs, social and professional entities, sports, schools, parents associations, et al. This would also ensure the maximization of efforts and resources and hopefully provide an intensive and extensive campaign that would reach into every nook and cranny of the nation.
In this respect a group of concerned Guyanese recently launched a Facebook page entitled ‘The Suicide Epidemic’ (https://www.facebook. com/groups/suicideepidemic/) which has catalyzed an informative, comprehensive and insightful conversation about suicide. The upshot is that a paper, synopsizing all of this, is currently being prepared and this will be used as the basis for an action plan, which, hopefully will involve other like-minded organizations and individuals and garner the support of the Ministers of Health and Education and other government agencies and entities. Additionally we have launched a youtube channel (https://www.youtube. com/watch ?v=WnoQ-7deUxU) that currently houses a set of videos with anti-suicide messages, as the first in a series of initiatives aimed at sensitization. We encourage all to join the conversation on our Facebook group and to access and share the youtube channel so we can embrace increasing numbers of persons and entities in helping to actualize the multi-sectoral approach to suicide prevention spelt out by Health Minister Dr Bheri Ramsarran. Each one can become an activist at some level.