Former Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has promised to push for the decriminalization of suicide as part of efforts to tackle the mental health issues under the new dispensation.
During a virtual discussion at the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day held on September 11 last, Ramsammy who was recently appointed to an advisory position in the Ministry of Health under the new government, noted the need for more to be done to address mental health issues.
“In Guyana suicide has been both a major health and development issue. We must do much more to stop it. We must start with decriminalizing suicide. I will campaign with our parliament to introduce decriminalization legislation this year or early next year depending on the parliamentary agenda,” he said.
In addition to the decriminalization of suicide, Ramsammy promised to ensure that more resources are used towards research for suicide prevention and other mental health issues. He called too for the re-establishment of the national commission on suicide prevention.
According to him, that programme proved effective in getting all sectors involved in the stance against suicide. “We had the gatekeepers’ programme which everybody was working together when to create an impact on suicide prevention,” the former Health Minister said.
He said the involvement of certain persons, religious leaders, social networks, and health workers can be combined to help raise awareness and create strategies to tackle suicide.
Ramsammy is not alone in his push to decriminalize suicide. The Caribbean Voice, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with a local and international presence has been vociferously advocating for suicide to be stricken from the law books as a crime.
In a previous interview with this newspaper, representative of the Caribbean Voice, Nizam Hussein alluded to statistics that highlighted those who died as a result of self-harm might have tried as much as 20 to 25 times before they were successful.
“Attempted suicide from a mental health perspective is a plea for help— it is at the same time a criminal act that could attract a two-year prison sentence. Seeking the requisite help is often not an option when families become aware that one of their members attempted suicide,” Hussein said.
As part of its anti-violence efforts, he said that Caribbean Voice has been helping through its emphatic communication programme to address the problem of suicide. According to him oftentimes suicide is preceded by evident behavioural change.
In 2012, Guyana was reported to have the highest suicide rate in the world. However, by 2015, when a Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] review was conducted, it was found that the rate had considerably declined.
“I just want to say that a lot of things are happening and sometimes people dwell on the negatives all the time. Granted that we are not off that list but we are getting off that list,” said the PAHO/WHO Representative Dr. William Adu-Krow of Guyana’s declining suicide rate.
As part of its efforts to help low and middle income countries like Guyana combat the scourge of suicide, WHO developed the Mental Health Gap Action Programme [mhGAP] which is aimed at scaling up services for people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders.
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