Ramsammy declares July as suicide prevention month

Stabroek News
July 3, 2001

Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has declared July Suicide Prevention Month noting that suicide is a major public health concern for his ministry and the government.

The minister made the announcement while delivering the feature address at the graduation ceremony of a batch of Psychiatric Nurses Aides at the National Psychi-atric Hospital at Fort Canje on the northern edge of New Amsterdam last week.

Dr. Ramsammy also disclosed that Dr. Bhiro Harry will chair the first ever National Committee on Sui-cide Prevention while Dr. Frank Beckles has volunteered to serve as a member. According to the Minister, PAHO, WHO and UNICEF have also agreed to participate while the New Building Society which had indicated a willingness to spend some $10 million on a Counselling Centre in Berbice will be asked to transfer the allocation towards establishing Guyana's first ever Crisis Intervention Centre in the region.

"Mental health and behavioural problems are at the top of my priority list ....these are major public health issues", he said. "Child abuse and substance abuse are part of the problem including violence against women, children and parents", he added.

According to Ramsammy, "suicide is the number one cause of death among young adults with higher prevalence rates in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five and Six. Region Six in particular has a high prevalence rate", he noted, saying Black Bush Polder is an area of concern. "There is a lot of stress and depression in the communities with alcoholism playing a major contributory role in suicides.

However, there is need for communities to have access to counselling but residents must also be involved in the prevention process, Dr. Ramsammy asserted.

Meanwhile, research recently conducted by a non- governmental organisation, Comforting Hearts, in East and West Berbice, found that while other ethnic groups have recorded suicides and attempted suicides, the act is largely committed by Berbicians of East Indian descent with more women attempting to do so.

The project was funded by UNICEF and was conducted in several villages between Corriverton and Mahaicony by a team from the University of Guyana and targeted a sample population of 1,868. It found that more Berbicians of African descent are in the Psychiatric Hospital than any other group, more men commit suicide and that more men are mentally ill than women. The stress indicators for men was of major concern to the researchers which they agreed has to be addressed urgently.

Almost 50 percent of those interviewed had contemplated suicide the research found. Several factors emerged as being responsible for people wanting to commit suicide including: domestic abuse, HIV/AIDS, incest, stress, financial difficulties and the in-law issue which was found to be a major factor in some Corentyne villages.

The team found that there was not enough social support in Berbice to cope with stress, coupled with a lack of institutional backing. Regions Five and Six are serviced by only three probation and Family Welfare officers.

The modes of committing suicide were: ingestion of poison, hanging, overdose of medication or refusing to take medication in the case of terminally ill persons. The research also found that more rural people committed suicide than urban dwellers.

Research conducted over a three-year period [1997-1999] found that in 1997, thirty-four persons committed suicide by hanging, twenty-six by ingesting poison and one by human torch. In 1998 forty-four Berbicians committed suicide by hanging, thirty by ingesting poison and seven by human torch.

In 1999, twenty-two did so by hanging, thirty-eight by ingesting poison and one by human torch. No figures are available for 2000 and 2001. The research also found that during this period, 226 persons attempted suicide in East and West Berbice.