September 10, 2020, is World Suicide Prevention Day and globally it is being observed under the theme, “Working Together To Prevent Suicide.” Here in Guyana, the Ministry of Health has adopted the same theme.
Although there has been significant improvement in suicide prevention in Guyana, our Government will not cease to take steps aimed at improving services in mental health in general and reducing suicide in particular.
We need social workers at all health centres, serving their respective geographical areas to implement multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral interventions needed to promote healthy outcomes, and thereby prevent mental disease during the lifespan of every Guyanese.
We need to continually build capacity for mental health care, while at the same time strengthen our human resources for mental health services. In this regard, health care workers will be trained at the primary level to ensure early detection of anyone showing suicidal inclinations.
We will work to provide training of more children and adolescent medical personnel to guarantee the healthy and resilient transition of our young people into adulthood, so that they can realize their full potential in their lifetime.
Since many suicides in Guyana are related to alcohol and other substance abuse, our Government plans to enhance our capacity for treatment and care, as well as to re-integrate persons who have recovered back into communities.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, and the concomitant increase in stressors, there could easily be an upsurge in mental illness. Hence, the need for social workers in communities is even more important at this time.
Businesses dealing with pesticide and other toxic chemicals must play their rightful role in suicide prevention. In collaboration with the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board, we will implement laws and regulations governing the acquisition, storage, use and disposal of these substances, as well as move to acquire the appropriate antidotes.
In the fight against suicide, everyone everywhere can contribute. It is especially important to involve Police, fire-fighters and other first responders, teachers, media professionals, religious leaders, community leaders and other non-medical persons for faster detection of vulnerable persons in our communities.
We all have a collective responsibility to ensure that our family members, friends, neighbours, and other loved ones are supported to prevent suicide. Depression, self harm, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviors are illnesses which can affect anyone.
These conditions deserve the same empathy and help like all other illnesses. I therefore urge everyone to take seriously any mention of suicide anywhere in our communities, and immediately encourage professional help. Early detection is key to preventing someone from unnecessarily taking their own lives.
If your loved one or friend is unsure where to start, offer to help them find the right mental health provider, such as a physician, mental health counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Accompanying them on the visits could be extremely helpful. If you feel persons will act on their suicidal thoughts, take them to the emergency room right away, and do not leave them alone, nor leave items which can be used to inflict self-harm.
The support of the media in reporting suicides according to the guidelines is also especially important to suicide prevention. Unnecessary and frequent repetition of such stories, however, should be avoided, as it could reinforce behaviour that vulnerable persons can replicate and cause harm to themselves.
Employers also play an important role in reducing stress and recognizing distress and suicidal behaviour. Companies of all sizes should have health and safety policies and programmes that promote a mentally healthy workforce.
Employers should consult with their employees to identify the causes of job stress and have policies and interventions in place to address them. These can include problematic managers or colleagues, poor working conditions, hazards, low pay, and long working schedules, among other things.
The Ministry of Health recognizes that mental health legislation in Guyana is antiquated and this results in social stigma and discrimination against those affected. Toward this end, the Ministry will take steps to update its laws in keeping with modern best practices to help mental health patients throughout Guyana.
We will also work with communities across the country to revive existing programmes, such as the Gatekeepers and Life Savers, in order to ensure greater involvement to reduce suicide.
As we observe World Suicide Prevention Day, we encourage all teachers, non-governmental organizations, parents, first responders, health care workers, religious leaders and indeed all Guyanese to become more aware of their unique roles in this nation-wide effort to lower suicide in Guyana.