Finding humane ways to help the depressed

Guyana Chronicle
July 5, 2000

THE NEWS item was terse and devoid of sentiment. A 31-year-old woman of the City had been charged with attempted suicide. On her first Court appearance, she had pleaded not guilty and was ordered remanded by the Magistrate until July 7, when a probation report on her background would be presented to the Court.

Included in the five-paragraph report was a brief summary of the young woman's predicament. The Police prosecutor informed the Magistrate that the woman had attempted to set herself afire following a misunderstanding with her reputed husband. She had locked herself in a bedroom where she used kerosene and newspapers to start a blaze. Her husband had broken into the room and put the fire out. Presumably, he had reported the matter to the Police and the young woman was apprehended.

While we appreciate the law of the land that proscribes that persons who attempt to take their own lives must be punished for their action, we are left to wonder just how therapeutic a two-week remand in the lockups would prove to a depressed and suicidal mind. Perhaps the young woman could have been handed over to a home to be under the care and supervision of a matron or an experienced social worker who would have been able to provide the necessary counselling and healing therapy. Such an approach might help the young woman to find her life worthwhile and instil in her consciousness, the hope and faith that would encourage her to overcome her emotional trauma.

The Help and Shelter Agency, Lifeline Counsellors and several other groups are doing tremendous work in helping close-to-the-edge persons avoid self-destruction by suicide. And here, we must commend the Berbice agency, under the guidance of Mr Ramdial Bhookmohan, that is in the process of constructing a Crises Counselling Centre as a direct response to the high incidence of self-immolation being experienced in that county.

Land has been identified for the project and both professional and volunteer counsellors will be available to minister to those persons who seek recourse there. But suicidal and other disturbed individuals are found in all areas of the country, and therefore all major urban districts should be equipped with similar facilities.

The human mind must be the most complex and intractable mechanism. We accept that some persons who are driven by destructive impulses will not always be amenable to therapy or counselling. But our social agencies must do whatever is humanely possible to offer assistance to those disturbed individuals long before they see suicide as an option.

Of course there were murders, suicides and episodes of horror and destruction in the Guyanese society some 40 years ago, but the current incidence of reported suicides is a serious cause for alarm. It activates the alarm bells of a conscious and largely religious people and forces them to examine the realities of modern life. There is the perception that the old verities, such as there would be reward for hard work and that a good education is better than silver or gold are crumbling in today's culture in which illiterates drive the most expensive vehicles, are laden with gold and can flash impressive wads of currency. On the other hand, over-worked teachers and nurses toil at the so-called honourable vocations for peanuts with very little hope of improving their economic status. Add to this scenario, the images of the good life filtered through the television sets, and the impossibility of this good life being attained by the ordinary labourer who barely earns enough to keep body and soul together.

Whatever the reasons contributing to this sense of hopelessness, the Guyanese society must seek ways of helping troubled minds to find hope and to resist the drive to self-destruction.

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