A few weeks ago, the nation mourned the loss of 12 year-old Amber Richards who was crushed to death when her aunt’s house at La Bonne Intention, East Coast Demerara fell on her. It was a tragic event that was heartbreaking to many in the country. A few days later, the nation mourned the suicidal death of 15 year Ricardo Niranjan of Non Pareil, East Coast Demerara.
Ricardo had lived with his mother and sisters, however, his family went to visit a relative in Suriname at the same time of Amber’s death and left him to look over the property. It was alleged that Ricardo was in a relationship with Amber, and because of her death, he became depressed and stayed at home. After not seeing Ricardo in days, a close relative went to his house in search of him only to see him hanging from the ceiling. It was suspected that he died on Monday, three days after the death of his alleged girlfriend.
Guyana has experienced some serious problems before, but nothing could be worse than someone committing suicide, which continues to plague the nation.
Suicide remains a national epidemic in the country. It affects everyone directly or indirectly. It is not only about the loss of a life of one individual; it is also a tragedy for relatives and friends who are left to grieve. It is a very serious social problem in Guyana which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world based on per capita.
According to the World Health Organization, Guyana has a suicide rate of 44.2 per 100,000 person and that for every female suicide, there were 3.2 male suicides. By comparison, Suriname has a suicide rate of 27.8 per 100,000 and Venezuela’s rate is 2.6 per 100,000, the lowest in the region.
There is no single reason that can explain the shockingly high rate of suicides in Guyana, other than the deep poverty in the rural areas, alcohol and drug abuse, rejection in a love affair, family pressures to marry young, arranged marriages and culture, among others. Studies have shown that mental health-related issues including sadness, hopelessness, despair, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety could lead to alcohol and substance abuse, and ultimately suicide.
In Guyana people of East Indian ancestry accounted for most of the suicides. Young people in the 14 to 35 age group comprise the vast majority of persons who commit suicide. Most suicides are by hanging or by the ingestion of poison or pesticides.
With a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists and trained social workers in the country, there are limited options for those contemplating suicide to seek help.
Suicide is a major problem in Guyana, but every problem, no matter how unsolvable it may seem, has a solution. Suicide remains a taboo subject, and even though it could be linked to witchcraft, the unnerving silence has done nothing to solve it. Stigma and misconceptions have contributed to a lack of constructive conversations; but the nation can no longer cower, because suicide could be seen as an indictment on the government’s failure to address it.
Attempts by the government to address the issue of suicide have been stymied by political wrangling. Last year, an opposition Bill which was introduced in Parliament to decriminalize suicide and to allocate funds to treat mental health and suicidal issues was voted down by the government.
It is time to end the political rhetoric and address the suicide issue.
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