Suicide is defined as the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally. It is without a doubt, a serious social problem in Guyana. The 2014 World Health Organization report revealed that the suicide rate in Guyana was five times higher than the world average. This data secured Guyana a spot at the top of the list with 44.
2 per 100,000 people, the highest suicide rate in the world. Estimations show an average of 1500-2000 attempted suicide rates annually which equates to approximately one suicide attempt every 5 hours, in Guyana. A more recent statistical update by the World Health Organization has revealed that Guyana is no longer at the top of the list for the Highest Suicide Rate in the world, but instead, has dropped to 4th place.
According to the data on the WHO’s website, Sri Lanka had the highest suicide rate in the world at an estimated 35.3 per every 100,000 inhabitants; Lithuania was in second place with 32.7 per 100,000; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) third with 32.0; and Guyana in fourth place with 29.
0.However, taking into consideration the population of these countries- Sri Lanka having over 20 million people, the DPRK- over 50 million, Lithuania- 2.9 million while Guyana has less than 1 million, it is clear that the country’s statistics remain as pressing as they were when the World Health Organization released its 2014 report. The global suicide rate in 2015 was 10.7 per 100,000 population, the Americas had a rate of 9.6 and Europe, 14.
1. According to the WHO website, the suicide rate in Guyana has been elevating since 2000. At that time, the rate was 22.3 per 100,000 population at 2000, increasing to 24.0 at 2005 and rising to 25.8 in 2010.
For 2012, according to the WHO, the rate was recorded at 34.8. Making matters worse, this data only accounts for the recorded suicides.
According to Dr. Bhiro Harry, Head of Psychiatry at the Georgetown Public Hospital, Guyana, ‘For each successful suicide in Guyana, there is up to 25 more attempted cases’ Guyana has a very dark history with self- inflicted death, being the location of the Jonestown Massacre 1978. North West of Guyana was Jonestown, the site of commune of the People’s Temple Religious Organization. On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, the head of this organization led 918 members to their demise, persuading all members of the commune to commit an act of “revolutionary suicide,” by consuming punch laced with poison. This Massacre was noted as the most ‘deadly single non-natural disaster in U.
S. history’ until 2001. Despite the fact that the effects of this massacre does not correlate directly with Guyana’s current suicide rate, it undeniably sheds light into the history of suicides in the country. The University of Guyana organized a Panel with aims of explaining the High Suicide Rate in the Country.
They found that the significant factors contributing to this high rate were relationship issues, political conflicts, poverty, and crime etc. 65% of these cases are caused by agricultural pesticides. Dr. Bhiro Harry, Head of Psychiatry notes ‘Many Indo-Guyanese are farmers; hence, they have easy access to lethal pesticides’.
Mental health professionals have brought attention to areas of deep poverty, where alcohol abuse along with the availability of deadly substances has contributed majorly to suicides in these rural areas. Also pointed at is the fact that many poor farmers in these areas have access to specific herbicides and pesticides, making them more prone to suicidal behavior. Mental health awareness in Guyana is extremely inadequate. Chapter 8:01 96 of the Laws of Guyana states “Everyone who attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for two years”. This law ignores mental health issues triggering suicide e.
g. schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome and others and instead, criminalizes it. Current legislation disregards the fact that people who attempt suicide are experiencing difficulties which they cannot handle on their own. Suicide attempts should be decriminalized and instead, public awareness of suicide-triggers like emotional distress and depression should be increased so that loved ones, family and friends of people who attempt suicide can intervene and offer emotional support and professional psychological help can be sought.While there has been significant progress in downgrading the rate, some argue that the matter is still not taken seriously and enough isn’t being done to exterminate suicide in Guyana.
The decline in the suicide rate during the period of 2012 to 2015 was brought about as a result of an increase in awareness of the elevated suicide rate in Guyana. This awareness inspired Guyanese citizens and urged the Government to make an effort to thwart the suicide reputation in the country. One effort made by the Government was the placement of a two year custodial sentence on attempted suicide. This enforcement was made to highlight the strict intolerance for suicide in the country.
Before Guyana was labelled as the country with the highest suicide rate in the world, the Ministry of Health invested in measures to reduce the number of suicides in the country. These measures included workshops and seminars that trained the leaders of society including teachers, police officers and priests to identify people who may have intentions of committing suicide. These seminars were held in Berbice, a rural area in Guyana labelled the “Suicide belt” due to its abundant cases of both attempted and successful suicides. The region 3 of Guyana, one of the regions with the largest suicide rate in the country with 113.6 per 100, 000 persons, made significant efforts to spread awareness to prevent suicide by placing posters within the region to educate individuals about suicide.
Arrangements were made to collaborate with the Education Departments and Youth Groups to hold sessions to address suicide prevention. The administration also aspires to join efforts with the parents though Parent Teacher Conferences in addressing the topic of suicide. Efforts were also made by The Guyana Defense Force and the Florida National Guard (FNG) to address the issue of suicide in Guyana.
The issue was discussed in a conference which was held at the St. Francis Community Developers Conference Room, at Rose Hall Town, Corentyne, Region 6.Generally, the issue is gaining attention in the entire region.
The Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) has acknowledged the severity of suicide in the nation and a result, is contributing to raise awareness along with implementing changes in government policy and in public health services. Initiatives were taken between 2010 and 2013 regionally to discuss mental health, which led to the development of a plan for 2014-2019 to combat the suicide rate. The Media has also been flooded with suicide awareness advertisements and messages to enforce the importance of suicide prevention into the minds of Guyanese.
In 2015, a Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud launched a ‘Suicide Helpline’ under the Force’s Social Crime Prevention programme. The helpline consisted of qualified and trained individuals with whom the public can speak through numerous forms of communication e.g. through a call, text messaging, emails etc. The increase in workshops around the nation encouraged locals to keep an eye out for those in need of guidance along with showing them how to do so.
This knowledge has notably strengthened the nation as majority of the population is now aware of the importance of suicide prevention. One Charity Organization: The Guyana Foundation has played an integral role in highlighting this phenomenon in Guyana where stigma attached to mental health issues exists. Youngsters are taught practical skills at the Sunrise Center as it is believed that learning skills give young people a brighter outlook. Free courses are also available to the public including Dress-making, tie-dye and yoga. Attendees also occasionally complete questionnaires assessing their emotional wellbeing.When it comes to tackling suicide, Guyana has an enormous shortfall; a lack of mental health facilities and professionals.
The national psychiatric hospital comprises less than five full-time psychiatrists, less than 300 beds and no residential facility. These deficiencies insinuate the country’s neglect to mental health. Consequently, this neglect is mirrored by Guyanese. Savitri Persaud, a doctoral candidate at York University who has done extensive research on mental illness in Guyana notes that ‘Mental illness is misunderstood in the country, with symptoms often mistakenly attributed to witchcraft which is known locally as ‘obeah’. As a result, sufferers are alienated and occasionally may even be assaulted physically’ This is extremely unhealthy because if the entire nation sees mental health as being inferior to physical health, the suicide rate would only accelerate.
Guyana has a very small population, and just as a family history of suicide leads to more suicides, suicide in such a small community will likely also lead to an increase in suicides. Persaud notes ‘Guyana is a place where most people live in villages and rural areas, so those who people tend to reach out to are religious leaders,’. She concludes by saying we must consider how mental health is interpreted by religious leaders. If religious leaders can be properly educated and trained on how to deal with mental health issues, they can then guide the public as to how to go about treating it properly. In conclusion, the researcher initially saw the efforts being made to combat the high suicide rate in the country as inadequate. However, after detailed research, she was able to learn about both major and minor projects initiated to dilute the suicide rate in Guyana.
However, most of these projects focus on combatting suicide instead of preventing it. These mindsets will truly only fight suicide attempts of individuals who appear suicidal. What about those suicide victims with no obvious signs of suicide? Instead, major organizations should focus on the pillar of thought of individuals. Educating individuals about the wrongs of committing suicide will go a further way than educating them about ‘the subtle signs and signals that suicidal people give off in order to help them”. When individuals are aware of the wrong things about committing suicide including the hurt they put their families and friends through when they do so, they will more likely avoid suicide when faced with a problem and instead, seek for help. Individuals in Guyana who rely significantly on religious solutions to mental health problems should be educated on the biological and psychological contribution to these mental illnesses instead.
In this way, they will realize the importance of counselling, guidance and psychological/psychiatric facilities. Future research should be done to explore the effects of introducing guidance and counselling to Guyanese as this may be the road to demoting the suicide rate in Guyana.