Suicide continues to be a major social problem in Guyana. While the vast majority of Guyanese value and preserve life, some are trying to take theirs intentionally. How can people hurt so badly that they resort to commit suicide? We will never know because we do not feel the hurt the way they do.
Suicide affects all segments of the population, but recent evidence suggests that young people are particularly vulnerable. To solve this problem, we must increase public awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma associated with suicide, provide adequate resources to relatives affected by suicide and we must take threats of suicide seriously.
Suicide is a public health crisis in this country and during the last two or more decades, the rate of suicide has increased. Guyana was not so long ago considered the suicidal capital of the world and Berbice, the suicidal capital of Guyana.
In 2014, a report from the World Health Organization stated that the suicide rate in Guyana was five times higher than the world average, with 44.2 persons per 100,000 and this included only reported cases.
Official estimates show that between 1,500 and 2,000 persons attempt suicide each year in Guyana, which is the equivalent of one attempt every five hours. As a caring nation, we have a lot of work to do to lower the suicide rate.
There are many reasons why people commit suicide. They include mental health illness such as schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and postpartum depression. People who have experienced shame due to divorce, or physical abuse like domestic violence and rape or have contracted certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS are also likely to commit suicide.
Whether it is mental health issues, a physical ailment or a traumatic event, it should be obvious to all and sundry that people who are experiencing any of these difficulties are likely to commit suicide.
Though there is public awareness of how serious suicide is, there is no system in place to monitor suicidal victims. The government has spent billions of dollars on health care annually, but there is a glaring lack of child and adolescent mental health services in the country.
And with respect to psychological and counselling services there is very little that is available to help suicidal victims.
The fact that the University of Guyana is currently unable to provide adequate training in child psychology which is in needed in the country is troubling. Efforts must be made to provide scholarships in this area for those interested in pursuing such studies.
Too often people are afraid to talk about their mental health issues due to all sorts of pressures, stigmatization and expectations. For instance, men may see the discussion of their emotions as an affront to their masculinity. And women may be afraid of being perceived as weak or overly temperamental and may hide their feelings.
There are too many gender stereotypes at work when it comes to how we handle mental health issues. However, the instances of suicide should teach us that mental health issues matter and should have the same primacy as matters of life and death.
The impact of a single death by suicide cannot be overestimated or taken lightly.
When someone falls victim to suicide, entire families and communities are irreparably damaged. The trauma can persist long after the loved ones are gone. It could do untold harm to relatives and communities. Not only is productivity harmed but, more importantly, great promises are lost or unfulfilled, and families are left to mourn.
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