Suicide should be declared a public health problem-Study

Stabroek News
May 22, 2001

Suicide, one of the leading causes of death particularly among young males in Guyana, should be announced as a public health problem since it takes as much lives as AIDS, a study conducted by the Centre for Economic and Social Research (CESRA) has recommended.

The study, titled `The Shadow of Death - a recent study of suicides in Guyana - Incidence, Causes and Solutions', was commissioned by clinical and forensic psychiatrist, Dr Frank Beckles. It is to be launched on Wednesday at the Hotel Tower.

The study has listed 23 recommendation made by senior government officials, medical personnel, police and prison officials, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, local government functionaries and other community leaders in focus interviews.

The study, conducted during the latter half of last year, has found that suicide is one of the leading causes of death particularly among young people, males, East Indians and Hindus in Guyana,

Recommending that suicide be announced as public health problem, the study has said that because it was not treated as a public health problem there were no major plans in place to reduce the incidence in spite of the dramatic increase in recent years. The study also feels that the Ministry of Health should devote adequate resources to deal with the problem. The lack of finance has in the past deterred work being done on suicide.

According to the study the suicide rate for 1999 was 2.3 deaths for every 10,000 members of the Guyanese population and between 1995 and 1999 the suicide rate had increased by 128.3%. It found that eight out of every 10 suicide deaths are males; three out of every four suicide deaths are East Indians; the suicide rates are higher in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) and Region Six (East Berbice Corentyne); 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.

In addition to focus interviews among others interviewed for the study were persons who attempted suicide, relatives and friends of persons who committed and attempted suicide and other persons selected at random

The study speaks of suicide as "a constant threat to society" as "everyday in Guyana people are attempting suicide...a spirit... a shadow that hangs over the Guyana society presenting an unknown and absolute option for the individual who feels there can be no other." Alcoholic spirits copiously utilised in Guyanese communities does not ease the pain and frustration but instead liberate their expression in which death sometimes becomes preferable to life, the study summaries. It appears to be seasonal and is especially noticeable during the months of August, September and October

Persons who attempt suicide, the study said, "embrace this act of ultimate personal intimacy to escape a pained existence occasioned by hopelessness, depression and uncontrollable anger. Women and youth are trapped in their homes by a culture of chauvinist control, some subject to emotional and physical abuse and incest."

Men, who commit suicide, are described as victims of unfulfilled aspirations, a loss of face, of control over their lives.

Apart from these `stolen lives' there are also those living with permanent mental if not also physical scars from unsuccessful attempts.

Focus interviewees have said that there is need for counselling services throughout Guyana; for counselling services to assist surviving family members; for research before preventative strategies are adopted and for viable community centres to be established.

On the issue of counselling and public awareness they also feel that young Indians need more counselling on love relationships; that Indian males be re-socialised to change orientation to life; that workshops be conducted in communities to sensitise residents; that there should be radio and television programmes to deal with the problem; that films on how people cope with stress should be shown.

This problem they felt needs to be dealt with by all the social organisations in the community and preventative mechanisms should be instituted by these institutions and some facility should be provided to counsel and work with people with suicidal tendencies.

It was also important, they felt that parents enjoy a good relationship with their children with whom they should build a bond.

They feel that a telephone hotline should be set up to help suicide victims and furthered that churches teach people the value of life, that suicide is sin and keep young people busy; that people should be made to understand that membership and participation in interactive social groups like clubs and churches can help with the suicide problems. that more integration with religion is needed to help prevent suicide.

Government they feel should announce suicide as a public health problem as it takes as much lives as AIDS; it should make playgrounds for recreation in rural communities such as Black Bush Polder where the suicide rates is high; should implement harsh laws and penalties to persons who have attempted suicide; should `put its foot down' or implement policies to reduce the amount of alcohol on the market; and there should be legal enforcement to avoid domestic abuse which leads to suicide.

The study looked at the incidence of suicide in Guyana, incidence of attempted suicide in Guyana; a demographic characteristic of sample; suicide precipitants; general health; sexual abuse and physical abuse; exposure to sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS infections; social integration and he has looked at other personal opinions and issues and focus interviews.

It concludes that there is no one factor, social or psychological that can explain suicide in Guyana.

The study, which attempts to find answers to a number of questions, has concluded that they require further empirical investigations. These questions include, "Why do males commit or attempt suicide than females? Why do more East Indians commit or attempt suicide than other ethnic groups? Why do Hindus commit or attempt suicide than persons from other religions? Why is suicide more prevalent in rural farming communities than other areas" and Why do more young people, ages 10 to 35 year commit or attempt suicide than other persons."

The study has listed about 31 perceived reasons why persons commit suicide among which are family conflicts, alcohol and drug abuse; it is easier to commit under the influence of alcohol; the dramatic increase in suicide among East Indians is attributed to differences in culture and socialisation; East Indian girls who get pregnant outside of marriage may want to commit suicide because of societal pressures; and Indian movies portray suicidal influences.

Among other reasons given are lack of education, domestic violence, the fact that many East Indian communities are without recreational facilities. Men and youths resort to the rum shops for recreation and start drinking due to peer influence; East Indians in rural communities tend to live in extended families and overcrowding may lead to tensions and pressures by in-laws to conform to certain ways.

Suicide it says can also result from criticism by the community, catastrophic loss, opposition to love affairs, mental disorders, HIV/AIDS infection, murder and suicide itself. Attempted suicides, the study said may be an effort of the victim to get attention. (Miranda La Rose)