About a decade ago, psychiatrist Dr Frank Beckles commissioned a study on suicides in Guyana, perhaps the most comprehensive study ever done. The findings were not surprising since one would expect most suicides would use the chemical most available to them.
Indeed, most of the suicides occurred in Berbice where the major activity was agriculture and where one would find some of the most toxic chemicals. Gramoxone was found to be the drug of choice, and indeed it was readily available, since it was a weedicide on which farmers relied heavily. There was a time when the most common pesticide was monocrotophus, closely followed by Malathion.
The then Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, organized a march in Berbice to sensitise people to suicides. He also organized seminars, one of which was a trainer of trainers programme to teach people to recognize a potential suicide and to prevent the death.
These trainers of trainers were also supposed to work with the relatives of these individuals and even with those in whose families a suicide would have occurred. Whether this programme is working is unclear because not much if anything is being spoken about it.
Dr Beckles’s study further found that Region Three, particularly West Coast Demerara and East Bank Essequibo, were not far behind Berbice. Again the suicide relied mainly on the toxic substances. It also found that while most of those who took their own lives were alcoholics, a number of people infected with HIV sought, what for them was, the easy way out. The argument was that they could not live with the embarrassment and the possibility of rejection if their relatives became aware of their status.
The study further found that people of a certain age were more prone to commit suicide than older people, although older people with some disability that hampered their movement and caused them severe pain could be pushed to that ultimate level.
Last week, two very young people hanged themselves and caused consternation among their schoolmates. Why the girl hanged herself is still a mystery, but then it is said that some social workers met with the young boy in the absence of his parents and soon after he too hanged himself.
There are many things that need examination here. If indeed the social workers proceeded to interview him about a sensitive issue in the absence of his parents, then they should be sanctioned. There is a basic rule that stipulates that children should not be interviewed in the absence of their parents. Perhaps, given the nature of the country, where untrained people are often placed to do sensitive tasks, there is the possibility that a very unprofessional approach was adopted.
But the issue goes beyond these social workers. It is time teachers be trained to deal with social issues, especially at a time when young people in school are resorting to drastic measures. There was the Neesa Gopaul issue during which a girl cried out for help and while the teachers did the best they could, the social services did not respond in a manner that could have saved the life of a 16-year-old girl.
All too often there are signs, but unless one is trained to recognize the signs, unless one has communicating skills and unless one can relate to a suffering person, then there will always be these suicides.
A suicidal person is often a person who wants attention, but we often are too busy in our own little world that we cannot bring ourselves to share some of our time with the people who really need help. This attitude is extended to the home where today many parents simply cannot relate to their teenage children, with the result being harsh and frightening.
At the level of the state, one can safely conclude that Guyana was never prepared to deal with these major social issues. For a country with some 700,000 people there are a mere four psychiatrists and no more than six psychiatric nurses.
Unless the nation takes notice it is going to lose even more people by way of suicide, at a time when the roads and criminal activity already account for a sizeable number.