Lay counsellors are critical to fighting suicide

Dear Editor,

In the context of Guyana, suicide prevention is no longer about awareness building since no one can argue that Guyanese are not fully aware of suicide in all its ramifications. And telling Guyanese to ‘say no to suicide’ actually has absolutely no impact on suicide prevention simply because it offers no viable suicide prevention strategies.

Suicide prevention is two-fold – train people to develop high self-esteem and strong and extensive coping skills so they can handle challenges and stress, and ensure they have support networks around them. In the latter respect, lay counsellors are critical as they proactively act to get necessary help once they observe warning signs, which they are trained to do. Actually The Caribbean Voice (TCV) was able to access a lay counsellor trainer from abroad but unfortunately we do not possess the required financial resources to accommodate that person for a year in Guyana. We are willing to pass the relevant info to the government hoping that they can make this happen. We guarantee that the cost would be a fraction of what the government would pay if they were to contract such a service.

Also, the second level in a support network is easy and quick access to counsellors and psychologists, currently not a reality in Guyana. In this respect we join child activist, Nicole Cole and others in asking whether child psychologists are available to meet the needs as stipulated in the Juvenile Justice Bill, that children who are apprehended by police must undergo psychological evaluation. If that is not the case, as we suspect, then are urgent actions being taken to rectify the situation?

Meanwhile, TCV continues to lament the very limited, highly selective manner in which counselling is offered by the government. We are thus calling for a policy that would ensure that all suicidal persons and all suicide survivors as well as all abused persons have access to counselling. And we ask again whether the thirty psychologists who graduated from the American University for Peace Studies in December 2017, have/are being appropriately employed by Government?

As well we applaud the upcoming training sessions for probation officers to improve their ability to offer counselling. May we suggest that selected individuals from the health care industry as well as selected teachers be also included in this programme? Such inclusion would be much more cost effective than to hold separate training and will simultaneously expand the reservoir of persons with some basic knowledge about counselling, no matter how limited. We also again repeat our appeal that teachers be facilitated to participate in the Psychology programme at the University of Guyana, as far as is possible, as was done when a similar programme was launched in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, we continue to be concerned by the carefree attitude adopted by far too many with regards to suicide ideation. Over and over and over we hear or read about loved ones and caregivers not seriously taking comments expressing suicidal intention and saying that they think the victim was joking or that they had heard that so many times that they simply disregarded it.

Here is an example relating to a recent suicide death: “After turning the television down, he asked her to get him a cup of tea, and when she came back with it, he reportedly told her, “Dis guh be de last day yuh guh see me”…Having heard words to that effect before, she wordlessly turned and headed to bed. But at around 04:55hrs when she got up to prepare to go to work, she heard Kumar vomiting at the back of the house.”

Kumar subsequently died as a result of the ingestion of poison.

Thus, instead of building awareness and ‘saying no to suicide’ efforts, resources should be employed to bring about critical changes by emphasizing that citizens must always act on suicide ideation instead of treating it as a joke and/or not taking it seriously and by debunking the myths and eliminating the taboo that currently surround counselling so that citizens would be comfortable accessing counselling, however it may be available.

We do understand the lack of resources but one way around it is to piggyback: health care workers can chat with patients, a short module can be added to various training programmes, government officials can include messages in various public presentations, government and private sector ads can include short messages, similar messages can be included on billboards – physical and electronic, broadcast media can be asked to offer PSAs, sports, cultural and other entities can also be requested to share messages with their members and at public presentations and so on. In effect political will and concerted organisation are needed. In this endeavour TCV is willing to collaborate with any entity – public or private sector. We can be reached at or via phone at 718-542-4454 (North America) and 664 1152/646-4649 (Guyana).

Yours faithfully,

Annan Boodram

The Caribbean Voice


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