Today has been designated World Suicide Prevention Day by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Over the last decade, the awareness of suicide as a major problem in Guyana rose exponentially when we earned the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita rate of suicide in the entire world: 44.2 per 100,000. As is their tradition, the organisers selected a theme for the day which highlights the need for interventions that can prevent, or at least reduce, suicide — which takes the lives of some 800,000 persons worldwide.This number is greater than the entire population of Guyana, and should offer a perspective on the enormity of the challenge in addressing the reduction of suicide. If one is concerned about the destruction of human lives by war, suicides presently result in more deaths than all wars combined; while concentrated in the same demographic: the young. The theme for 2017 is ‘Take a minute, change a life,’ and it reminds us that since suicide is almost always caused by depression — even if short-term when events occur in the lives of those around us that may cause them to become depressed — we should reach out and lend at least an ear to their problems.In Guyana, we have all become sensitised to one type of suicide in the young — when they believe their “true love” has been stymied. There is no question that parents especially should play a more sensitive role in listening and empathizing with their children who may be involved in relationships they consider “unsuitable” for one reason or another. Rather than berating the child, which is unfortunately the norm, parents should discuss openly and rationally the reasons for their stance. Rather than using categorically prohibitive language such as ultimatums, they should strive to look at the situation from their children’s viewpoint.Very often, the children know the parents love them, but conclude they just do not (or do not want to) “understand” their situation. The suicidal act becomes an impulsive one, to hurt the parent in an attempt to get them to reach that understanding. Unfortunately, the suicide is not a case as when Tom Sawyer faked his death to seen how sorry his Aunt Polly would be to see him gone: death is final. The authorities have, for years now, conceded that suicide is a public health issue linked to depression but, sadly, they have not taken a holistic approach towards addressing it.One gets the impression that, more than anything else, the Government has vacated the field to the NGOs that have sprung up over the last few years. These have staged more “walks” to bring “awareness” to suicide than contestants in the Boston marathon. They might have done some good work with their “walks” by “talking the talk” to raise awareness, but this is just the beginning. The Government cannot walk away from their responsibility in a Public Health crisis: it is time for them to “walk the walk” and initiate countrywide programmes.Take, for example, the long promised councillors in educational institutions. This is not a “chicken and egg” question – the “egg” of training councillors comes first. Have the Government worked with the University of Guyana to introduce the requisite training in the Social Work degree the latter offers? So they can be hired in the schools? Then there is the “Gatekeepers Programme” which the previous administration had initiated, but has been allowed to die on the vine. This programme essentially trained locals in suicide-prone communities to be aware of suicidal “tell-tale” signs, and be available for offering counselling to persons who may be contemplating suicide. This programme was proven quite successful, and one wonders what has prevented its resuscitation.The WHO reported that Guyana is no longer number one in its suicide rate, which has dropped quite significantly to 30.6. All hands must be on deck, including the Government’s, to intensify this trend.
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