Suicide on the rise in Santa Rosa

Kaieteur News
February 17, 2007

Related Links: Articles on suicide
Letters Menu Archival Menu

There's been an alarming upsurge in suicide in Santa Rosa, Moruca in the last two months, which has prompted the relevant authorities to explore ways of curbing this disturbing new trend.

According to Senior Public Education Officer of Help and Shelter, Dennis Cuffy, three adults have taken their lives between last December to present, and another 10 persons have attempted to do the same. The most recent suicide was last Saturday. There are also reports that another person committed suicide just a few days ago in the Moruka sub-region of Assakata

At a media briefing held yesterday in conjunction with the Amerindian People's Association (APA), Help and Shelter officials reported that with the exception of one, the persons who took their lives as well as those that attempted, were all men.

What was surprising, Cuffy noted, is that all of the men were young, gainfully employed and respectable members of the community. The persons were all between the ages of 21-30.

One person was a Medex and the other a school teacher.

While the reason for the sudden upsurge is not certain, officials say the results of preliminary inquiries suggest that the majority of the suicides stemmed from domestic issues.

“What we found out that was the acts seemed to be triggered from rumours of infidelity that were being levied against the spouses of these men.”

Hanging and the ingestion of pharmaceuticals were the major means of self harm in that community, according to the officials.

Officials of the Help and Shelter launched an investigation into the upsurge in suicide cases following reports on the incidents carried in this newspaper.

During the conduction of a workshop on HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and Trafficking in Persons held in that areas between January 11-12, Cuffy said officials from the APA and Help and Shelter sought to get a feel of the situation.

“Although the workshop was successful, the trauma that the community was experiencing from the incidents was evident. We returned the following week with probation officers and visited and provided some amount of consolation to the relatives of the dead persons. We also conducted an investigation of sorts into the reason for the deaths”

APA Programme Coordinator, Jean La Rose, lamented the fact that alcohol and drug usage have been increasing in that area, one reason which she attributed to the upsurge in domestic feuds.

She explained that the alcoholic beverages consumed now were not the customary cultural brews but those being brought from Georgetown.

“I believe that without alcohol, indigenous families are intact, but it has been playing a major role in fuelling aggression and abuse,” La Rose opined.

As a result, a Touchau from the area had written to the Commissioner of Police for intervention in the drug usage, but to date nothing has been done, La Rose said.

Stressing the severity of the situation, La Rose pointed out that the incidence of suicide in Amerindian communities was practically non-existent.

Prior to this upsurge, the most recent case of suicide was about two years ago.

Noting that the suicide situation has the propensity to become worse, Cuffy posited that the time to act is now.

A collaborated approach, involving the Ministries of Human Services and Amerindian Affairs, the APA and Help and Shelter is being crafted to address the problem.

The basis of the strategy, according to the official is to empower members of the community with the skills to effectively deal with problems.

A team is to visit the area on March 12 -16 to train members of the community in counseling skills.

However Cuffy is convinced that it is only through a concerted effort that the problem could be eliminated. As such, he is calling on all the relevant bodies to get on board in addressing the issues that is contributing to this alarming increase.

“There is the risk that this act will be seen as the way out in the community … already we have a number of persons who have threatened to take their own lives in that area and the families are fearful that it will infiltrate their homes. We need to act now”

The draft proposal of a National Strategy for the prevention and control of suicidal behaviour in Guyana was recently formulated by the Health Ministry.

The general objective of the proposal is to reduce morbidity and mortality rates due to suicide attempts.

The specific objectives include promoting healthy lifestyles which would discourage suicidal behaviour, detecting the high risk groups in the population and developing a surveillance system with a view to establishing reliable and efficient data collection on suicides.

It is hoped that the programme will result in capacity building at all levels.

In recent times, suicide has become a major public health challenge in Guyana and is among the 10 leading causes of death, locally.

Worldwide, one million people die as a result of suicide each year and it ranked as the 3rd leading cause of death among juvenile and young adults.

Globally, mortality due to suicide has increased by 60% in the last 4-5 years.

During these years, the highest incidence has shifted from the elderly towards younger persons of productive age.

Autopsies- 950 in total- conducted at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation in 1999 revealed that suicide was responsible for 10% of the deaths.

As a matter of fact, surveys have revealed that suicide is responsible for 20% of all deaths of persons between 15-24 yrs, locally.

67% of the persons who commit suicide in Guyana each year are males, while 32% of them are persons between the ages of 15-24 years.

Persons of East Indian descent rank highest among suicide victims with 68%.

Suicide by poison is ranked highest in Guyana with 59%.

Hanging is responsible for 22%, self mutilation 12% and drowning 7% of suicides locally.

A critical aspect of the draft proposal deals with limiting the easy access that persons now have to lethal means of inflicting self-harm.

The project involves a multi-sectoral approach which would include input from a number of organisations.

These include the Ministries of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and Human Services among others, as well as a number of agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations.

The strategy is also hoping to employ the services of the media in educating persons on the dangers and consequences of attempted suicides among other things.

Commenting on the policy document, Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said he will also be working with the media to “tone down” the publicity given to suicide attempts and victims since he believes this could have resulted in “imitation suicide attempts”.

"If newspapers play up the stories of persons who take their lives for some frivolous reason, people may believe that's the way to go once they are faced with this difficulty," Minister Ramsammy said.