Last month the suicide by hanging of a fifty-year-old on the Corentyne made headlines. “Neighbours told law enforcement officials that the man seemed ‘down’ lately but they thought nothing of it,” reported one media house.
Over and over and over this typical ‘thought nothing of it’ comment has been seen in reports on suicide victims. For God’s sake why would anyone ‘think nothing of it,’ when a change in behaviour is observed in any individual? After all the point has been made countless times that any change in behaviour – positive or negative ‒ is a significant warning sign of suicide. Once such a sign is observed, all observers must take action. Such actions should include taking five minutes of your time to ask, “How are you?” Listen without judging or wanting to tell the person what you think. Get someone who can provide initial counselling – a priest, a village elder, a teacher or other professional ‒ to talk with the person. Then seek professional help by touching base with the Suicide Helpline or any other number that will lead to a trained counsellor getting involved. And may we point out, for the umpteenth time, that in situations like these lay counseklors/gatekeepers would make that critical difference. Dare we hope that the current budget caters for the reintroduction of the Gatekeepers’ Programnme?
As well, earlier this month, the media reported on a murder suicide, also on the Corentyne. A forty-year old woman was stabbed to death by her common law husband, who then took his own life. According to one media report, the woman revealed to her niece that she (the woman) was going to be killed. Why did the woman not report to the law and leave the home? Why did the niece not report to the law and encourage the woman to leave the home and find somewhere safe? Why did neither of them seek counselling for the woman and the husband? Again gatekeepers/lay counsellors may have prevented this tragedy.
However, two assumptions are being made here: that all police officers are now trained to handle cases of abuse and suicidal mindset, and that every Guyanese now knows the numbers for the suicide helpline. The reality, however, is that neither is the case, in spite of continual calls by NGOs and social activists and promises by the government that all police officers will be trained to deal with abuse cases and suicidal mindsets and for the suicide helpline numbers to be continuously and widely disseminated using all possible platforms. Same deal for counsellors serving the public in the various regions as well as for NGOs and other entities providing counselling such as the Domestic Violence Counselling Centre at Corriverton, Guyana Foundation Sunset Centres, Monique’s Helping Hands, Help and Shelter and so on – government/relevant ministries must compile these numbers and widely and continuously disseminate them. The millions of dollars wasted on billboards announcing the obvious, that a budget was coming up, could have been spent of these measures to save lives and prevent abuse instead. Meanwhile we continue to call on the media to keep publishing all these numbers – The Caribbean Voice can provide a list of counselling entities if needed.
Meanwhile we appeal to all Guyanese to make it their business to intervene in cases of abuse and in any situation where a change in behaviour is observed or where suicide is talked about (someone talking about drinking poison, hanging himself/herself, wanting to die and so on) and to get such persons help or ask others to do so. It is time that we not only recognize that suicide and abuse prevention are everybody’s business but that we all act on this understanding by speaking with people, observing what’s happening and taking steps to get them help. Again we urge the media – all media – to continually promote this concept and to advise about steps that should be taken.
Meanwhile we also urge social workers, health care workers, religious leaders and priests, teachers and other professionals to join the front line in getting Guyanese to become proactively involved in saving lives and tackling…everybody’s business must become a national mantra and people must know what to do and how to do it. If help is needed please reach out to various NGOs and government agencies that can offer help.
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