Suicide – a societal ill that is to be held culpable for the loss of a vast number of the younger demographic- is presently showing an alarming trend within Guyana.
According to PAHO’s 2017 Adolescent and Youth Health Report suicide was cited as the leading cause of death amongst persons within the age range 15 to 24 years, an alarming number that accounts for more than half of the deaths in persons between 20 and 24.
However, once delved into, the report revealed that the higher percentage of these suicides was found in males. Guyana’s Mental Health Unit on combating these figures is implementing a litany of measures that are expected to greatly reduce the suicide statistics within Guyana.
In an interview with Senior Psychologist of the Ministry of Public Health’s Mental Health Unit, Dr. Balogun Osunbiyi, the concept of suicide as a national issue was explored. Dr. Osunbiyi elucidated that the statistics was quite disheartening, as death by suicide for persons at such a young age can beg the question of the future of a country.
He added that the efficacy of suicide could be quite extensive, affecting not just family members but society as well.
Dr. Osunbiyi added that the commonality behind most individuals committing suicide would be weak coping skills, explaining that an individual’s coping mechanisms may not always be adequate for the stressful situations that they are facing.
He further added that as different persons might have different tiers in coping skills, each person is much more likely to handle various issues in a myriad of ways.
Dr. Osunbiyi added that multifaceted factors with very different individuals might reflect the tiers of coping in persons.
“For some reason persons are not sufficiently coping… Life asks you some existential questions, and if you answer these questions timely and sufficiently, you are well. However, if you answer them insufficiently, you are going to have a challenge. “If you cannot answer them at all, then you will have challenges…Nonetheless, we at the Mental Health Unit have been teaching coping and refusal skills.”
It should also be noted that female cases of attempted suicide were four times more than men, with the male demographic being more likely to follow through.
Dr. Osunbiyi asserted that, by contrast, the female demographic is more likely to report or talk about their intentions of self harm as opposed to men.
When asked about the major contributing factors to the suicide statistics within the given populace, Dr. Osunbiyi noted that depression is one of the leading causes for the societal ill. He added that the social stigmatism attached to mental health illness often deters persons from seeking help.
With this in mind, the Unit is seeking to normalize mental health as any other illness; they have sought to provide mental health services at the various health centres across Guyana. Patients are also given unique identification numbers on their medical cards, with the covers being neutral, without indicators or labeling of ‘Mental Health’ that would attach stigma to the individual.
Dr. Osunbiyi explained that the Unit, which works in conjunction with Child Protection Services and the Police Force, provides psychosocial support for adolescents who may be struggling with self-harm issues. Furthermore, it was conveyed that there is also spiritual support for persons across the religious spectrum.
When asked about mental health resources within the rural communities, Dr. Osunbiyi explained that the Unit currently deploys mental health social workers, psychologist and other skilled medical health personnel in every area.
He added that persons at the various health centres are also trained to identify and counsel individuals with mental health illnesses. The programme, which is known as MH Gap, is geared to train non-specialized health care professionals to recognize, assess and refer mental health patients.
The unit also has a self-harm programme, which can be recognized as a major contributing factor for the reduction of Guyana’s suicide rate, which is currently at 24.6 percent. “While Guyana is not where we should be in terms of its suicide rate, it has made great strides and is continuing to do so.”
Dr. Osunbiyi asserted that mental health illnesses are often misconstrued by society’s preconceived notions of it , he then stated that a mere five percent of the patients that he sees are for insanity, while the latter are persons who are just overwhelmed and would need someone to open up to.
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