New Body to Craft National Anti-Suicide Strategy
-Dr Ramsammy
by Miranda La Rose

THE newly-established National Committee for the Prevention of Suicidal Behaviour is expected to develop a strategy for reining in suicides as a priority, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said yesterday.

During the last week in May, the minister had declared suicide a major public health issue and stated his intention to place it on the front burner. It is rated among the leading causes of death in Guyana, particularly among young people, males, East Indians and Hindus in Guyana. The rate is 16 suicides per 10,000 of the country's population.

In addition, the committee will organise and conduct workshops for parents, teachers, priests and religious leaders, police officers and journalists on how to detect suicidal behaviour; and establish crisis intervention centres in Berbice and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation during this year and subsequently in other parts of the country.

Launching the committee at his Brickdam office at the Ministry of Health yesterday, Dr Ramsammy said that the overall objectives of the programme are to reduce premature deaths due to suicide; lower the rates of suicidal behaviour; decrease the harmful aftermath and the stigma associated with suicidal behaviour and the traumatic impact of suicide on family and friends; promote awareness that suicide is preventable; and train more persons in recognising mental health problems.

The committee includes representatives of the Ministries of Education; Human Services, Social Security and Labour; Home Affairs; Culture, Youth and Sports; and Amerindian Affairs. Others represented are from the public and private sectors, non-governmental organisations, the religious community, the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children's Fund, the Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice) and Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) AIDS Committee, the University of Guyana Berbice Campus, the legal community and psychiatrists Drs Bhiro Harry and Frank Beckles.

The committee has met once before and is due to meet during the coming week. It has agreed to reserve July for focussing attention on suicide and suicidal behaviour. Research has shown that the rate of suicide peaks during July, August, September and October.

In spite of the short lead time to plan this month's observances, Dr Ramsammy announced that the committee has arranged a number of activities, including the presentation of a report on suicide in Regions Five/Six, seminars on mental health with a focus on suicidal behaviour, a march against suicide, stress management workshops, a series of substance abuse and suicide lectures and a series of television, radio and newspaper features.

The report on suicide, which has been supported by UNICEF, has been prepared by the Region Five/Six HIV/AIDS Committee and it will be made public in the Region Five Regional Democratic Council boardroom on July 18.

The seminars on mental health will be conducted by a team of mental health workers, including Dr Harry and a consultant. The March Against Suicide to be held in Corriverton and scheduled for July 29, has been organised by the Rotary Club of Corriverton. The march will be followed by a symposium themed `Rotarians of Corriverton in Partnership Against Suicide'. This activity is being coordinated at the Skeldon Hospital.
Three stress management workshops will be held in Black Bush Polder, Canje and West Berbice. Workshops will also be held subsequently in Regions Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) and Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands).

From the National Committee, Dr Ramsammy envisages that regional committees will be formed to advise the national body. He is of the opinion that Guyana could be the first country in the Caribbean to develop a strategy to deal with the issue of suicide on a national level. Other countries in the region, in which the suicide rates are higher, he said have been dealing with the issue through their mental health programmes. Guyana, he noted, is still to develop a national mental health programme.

The rate in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago is 18 out of every 1,000. He said that while the suicide rate in Guyana is not the highest, "I don't want to wait till it gets to the level where it ranks the second highest."

On the other hand, because of under-reporting on suicide in previous years, Dr Ramsammy said that he was not in a position to make comparisons on the number of suicides committed in recent years and whether there has been an increase or a decrease in the rate. However, he reiterated that the rate of 16 out of every 10,000 persons is relatively high.

The establishment of the committee follows a study commissioned by Dr Beckles, a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. Several recommendations, including declaring suicide a mental health problem, were made. Some of the activities the committee has planned are in keeping with those recommendations.

The study has found that eight out of every 10 suicides are committed by males; three out of every four suicides are by East Indians; the suicide rates are higher in Region Two and Region Six; 52.7% of all suicide cases occur in Berbice; two of every three persons who commit suicide in Guyana are young persons below the age of 35; and young adults 20 to 24 years are over-represented among those who commit suicide.

[Editorís Note: All credits for this news piece goes to the Stabroek News, in which it appeared on July 19, 2001.]inted from
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