The Caribbean Voice is a New York based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998. Currently it is focusing on suicide prevention and related issues in Guyana and the Diaspora and is working in collaboration with partners – other NGOs, businesses, socially conscious individuals, the media and various ministries in Guyana. Contact us at 621-6111 or 223-2637 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org
The Caribbean Voice welcomes the new government with tremendous expectations that much needed policies and programs addressing suicide and related issues will soon be put in place. We are on record as advocating for quite a number of measures to be implemented and in fact, had met with various ministers in the last government as well as stakeholders such as the Rights of the Child Commission, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha and the Pesticide Board in attempts to build concerted efforts to tackle social pathologies and dysfunction.
We also hope that the long awaited Mental Health Program will be reworked after wide consultations with all stakeholders, and then formalized and rolled out ASAP. Obviously, one component of this strategy should include provision of psychologists at all hospitals nationwide as well as periodic visits by psychologists to all clinics and health centers throughout Guyana. Another component should be ongoing education to bring mental health illnesses and related issues out of the state of taboo and to address the associated myths and misinformation. Education, after all, is the key first step towards redress.
Other measures should include:
1) Re-launching the Gatekeepers’ Program which the new Minister of Health has already expressed an intention of doing.
2) Empowering the Pesticide Board to implement the Sri Lankan Model of Hazard Reduction, which reduced suicide by 50% in less than a decade in Sri Lanka. The Pesticide Board has already given an undertaking to roll out a similar program.
3) Decriminalizing attempted suicide.
4) Having more than one social worker in each region and ensuring that the public is fully aware of and maximally capitalizes on their services.
5) Providing mental health training to all nurses and Medex personnel.
6) Having rape kits available at all public health institutions.
7) Establishing a registry of sex offenders and sensitizing the public to its existence and ramifications.
8) Facilitating the launching of a national entity to tackle alcoholism and drug abuse, especially given the latest figures and information revealed at the recent Caribbean Public Health Agency Research Conference in Grenada.
9) Implementing nation wide training for all police officers with respect to handling suicide, abuse and related issues, as well as becoming familiar with the provisions of all related laws. The recent assertion by Minister of National Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, that female ranks would take the lead in with respect to domestic abuse and gender violence is heartening, but we believe that all members of the police force should receive basic training and that suicide, sex crimes, alcoholism and drug abuse should be included.
10) Setting up suicide and abuse hotlines manned by trained personnel and compiling a list of phone numbers/personnel nationwide, who can be prevailed upon to take action/provide help once calls are made to hotlines.
11) Rolling out the Cops and Faith Community Network (CFCN) initiative nationally.
And because we strongly believe that change is more effective when it starts with the young, we hope that the set of proposals that was endorsed by the previous Minister of Education, would also be endorsed by the current Minister. Among these proposals are:
1) Having counselors in every school – a measure the Minister has already publicly indicated his intent to implement – and enabling these counselors to also serve the schools catchment areas.
2) Facilitating a national schools essay contest on suicide and suicide prevention, sponsored by The Caribbean Voice, a proposal, which has already being forwarded to the Honourable Minister, indicating how this can be incorporated into the curriculum, across disciplines. And we are willing to lay out a set of measurable standards and goals for this exercise.
3) Having senior high school students (fourth and fifth formers) gather primary data via surveys and questionnaires on suicide and related issues and engage in analyses of such data. Not only will this exercise create activists and possible change agents among the young but it will also help them fine tune research and analytic skills.
4) Allowing students nationwide to come out once a year into the community and along with parents and the community, walk, rally and placard against suicide, abuse and related issues.
5) Ensuring that all students at UG and the Teachers’ Training College undertake courses in mental health since the radiating effects of this can be quite significant.
6) Expanding the Health and Family Life Education Program curriculum to include suicide and related issues.
We are aware that other NGOs including CADVA, GRPA, Dharmic Sabha, CIOG and Monique’s Helping Hands have no dearth of great ideas that need to be given consideration. In fact we endorse the GRPA’s call for a comprehensive approach to sex education and emphasize that parents and communities must be integrally involved in this process for it to engender viable results.
National Stakeholders’ Conference
Meanwhile, we believe that an accommodation with all NGOs and activists on the social landscape should be facilitated and a concerted program initiated, so mapping can be done and no geographic area would thus be neglected. In this respect we note that the New Jersey Arya Samaj Mission (NJASM) recently completed a skills training center at Port Mourant and they are offering space for other organizations and various ministries interested in collaboration. Other organizations such as Save Abee Foundation and Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation also have centers that they are willing to put at the disposal of collaborative efforts.
Towards this end, The Caribbean Voice is organizing an all day National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues on August 21, in collaboration with Cara Hotel, Save Abee Foundation, Office Resources Inc, CADVA, CPIC Monique’s Helping Hands and a number of other entities. Actually such a conference is not only long overdue but should have been high on the agenda of the government. However, because officialdom seemed uninterested in convening such a conference, The Caribbean Voice and its partners stepped in to fill the breach.
While we have started sending out invitations and receiving attendance confirmations, we are also using this medium to extend an open invitation to NGO’s and other stakeholders, to contact us to be involved in the conference. Because we want the conference to be truly national in representation, we may not be able to accommodate more than one representative per organization and, in fact, would have to operate on a first come basis, since seating is limited.
Also, because it is a catered conference, pre-registration is mandatory.
There is no registration fee and we are exploring the possibility of helping organizations in outlying areas with transportation. For more information on and/or to register for the conference please call Bibi at 621-6111/233-2637 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, we hope that the Minister of Social Protection accepts our request for a meeting to discuss the possible involvement of her ministry in the conference and to explore other proposals regarding suicide and related issues, including erecting billboards nationwide and holding walks and rallies in every region, two other tasks that The Caribbean Voice and its partners would be launching in late August.
At least one Minister has already offered tangible support and we also hope that a number of others with vested interests in suicide and related issues would accept our requests to be involved as well as to meet with The Caribbean Voice and its partners to chart the way forward.
In fact, the critical importance of mental health well being to a nation’s development cannot be over emphasized. Dr. Margaret Chan Director‐General of the World Health Organization puts it in perspective: “Almost three quarters of the global burden of neuropsychiatric disorders occurs in low‐ and middle‐income countries. We can measure the costs to individuals, families, societies, and economies. And the costs of these disorders, which tend to have an early onset and are chronically disabling, are enormous. Taking action makes good economic sense. These disorders interfere, in substantial ways, with the ability of children to learn and the ability of adults to function in families, at work, and in society at large.”
And as the WHO itself points out “Positive mental health is linked to a range of development outcomes, including better health status, higher educational achievement, enhanced productivity and earnings, improved interpersonal relationships, better parenting, closer social connections and improved quality of life. Positive mental health is also fundamental to coping with adversity.”
In the context of Guyana we have seen in stark reality, the debilitating effects of neglecting mental health. It is now time that we, as a nation, give priority to tackling mental health issues, consistently, coherently, collaboratively and holistically within a framework that embraces all stakeholders.