Sometimes, it’s the intangibles that we must address and do so without requisite reverence to political correctness and circumspect for cultural mores.
The reality is that religious and ethnic expectations are insufficient mandates to guarantee internal well being and social fulfillment for citizens in most societies.
This is what the government has to look at with the right balance of practicality and sensitivity to address the suicide epidemic that has placed Guyana at the top of an unenviable list by world agencies.
It has to address this crisis without feeling that it is insensitive and otherwise incorrect to point out that the epidemic is concentrated within the Indian community and within a given religion.
And as it recognizes this, it has to present the epidemic as a communal disease because, as a country, the daily suicide or attempted suicide by members of the population irrespective of race, speaks sadly of national well being.
Retrospective conclusions like the majority of people who commit suicide do so because of pattern, may have some basis but it dances delicately around the culture of some communities that create the depression that causes the pattern.
There should be frank questions as to why, within a specific demographic, there is greater incidence of acute emotional distress, mental disorder, impulsivity, aggressive tendencies and adolescent maladaptive disorder, and alcohol abuse – all common risk factors for suicide, cited by Dr. Indira Harry Speaking at the Caribbean Public Health Agency’s (CARPHA) 60th Health Research Conference at the St George’s University Campus, Grenada in June 2015.
There is a protective rallying around the religion by Hindu Religious leaders who are quick to point out that their religion abhors the act of suicide, as if to preserve its efficacy. Yet, the Vedas, a collection of Hindu hymns, celebrates suicide when it is seen as sacrifice.
And, there is an interesting perspective featured in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, October – December 2012 issue which attaches some significance to cultural, religious and literary ethos.
It looks at suicide in the context of Indian literature, the glorification of suicide as a better alternative to shame and disgrace. There is reference to epic Sanskrit literature, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, in which there is reference to suicide as a valiant act. The story tells us that after the death of Lord Sri Ram, there was an epidemic of suicide in his kingdom, Ayodhya.There is commendation for the wise man, Dadhichi, who committed suicide to offer his bones in the war against the demons. There is absolute condemnation of suicide for selfish reasons but that is juxtaposed against the Sativrata, where a woman burnt herself to death on the pyre of her husband rather than live without him. And there is attribution of valor to thee Rajput women who killed themselves rather than suffer abuse at the hands of invading Muslim men.
The citation of suicide in this reputable periodical, the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, may well be to show that the religious system of values has more than religion as its rudder; it has the influence of Hindu texts- manuscripts and historic literature -as well. So, though the religion may strictly condemn suicide, it is still curiously juxtaposed as an honorable way to depart this earth if one chooses to contextualize his/her situation as being parallel to any of the literary heroes.
These are the tools, the background, the newly formed task force has to arm itself with when it sits to formulate a strategy to fight the epidemia of suicide in Guyana – understanding the culture within the culture.
President Granger was intuitive when he said “….the home is where these matters should be resolved…” – referring to the ills that lead up to suicide or its attempt. But, in addition to the family conversation, perhaps with a religious leader present, there is dire, immediate, need for psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, workshops, to offer services; from evaluation to counseling parents and family members and others in how to identify suicidal signs and seek help on behalf of the loved one.
Indeed, fighting the rampage of death at the hands of the victims should not be a stigma assigned to a specific race or religion but should be seen as a service that is directed to the communities hardest hit by the epidemic.
And, as battle to defeat suicide is waged, on every socio cultural front, the correlation between mental health and suicide should not be understated or overlooked, especially since it is yet another component to the epedemia.
The daily deaths and attempts at dying in Guyana have reached a threshold that is frightening enough for the country to appeal to the international community for immediate assistance with psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors. Not unlike Physicians of Mercy, the services of Psychologists and Psychiatrists could be requested en masse to conduct wide scale evaluations and offer programs that provide solutions to this crippling phenomenon that now defines the country.
Decidedly, follow up is key in the science of treating the mind and though tele -psychiatry is not ideal, it would be better than the lack of psychiatry at all – if Guyana were to benefit from an influx of professional volunteers. And, if that is coupled with educating the local cadre of medical personnel on how to ensure that the treatment regimen is being followed by the client , that would be better still.
The authorities have to start somewhere and do so immediately, with openness to every available resource.
Guyana is in clinical crisis much like West Africa was during the Ebola outbreak. Part of the program to alleviate the situation would be to sensitize against suicide well before a person gets to the point of thinking suicide. The government has already implemented some means restriction by proposing to set up poison control centers but there is hardly a restriction that could be placed on the rope or the guns or the immolation or jumping that challenged emotions resort to when bent on ending life.
There has to be a concentration on the community that is the family unit, how domestic turmoil could translate to its internalization by those who feel victimized. There are factors like childhood abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence and partner abuse, social issues like discrimination, unemployment, conflict with self worth that are likely triggers to the level of depression or emotional instability that could lead some to think that suicide is a viable alternative.
The President has issued a clarion call to teachers, churches, peers, saying that he wants to know if the phenomenon is “social, cultural, economic”.
It is all of those things and when the agencies he has summoned come together they should not feel that theirs is the solution to the problem, for their religious or social leanings may aggravate the very problem they are working to alleviate.
Beating, or, at the very least, reducing suicide in Guyana will require the unselfish commitment of resources, working in tandem, to build on ideas and programs proposed at the public health level. It will necessitate understanding the condition of mental instability and making use of the testimonies of survivors and their loved ones, designing and implementing policy, that is driven by nothing more than the aspiration, the dogged commitment, to implementing a system that works.
We have the political will.
We have the social commitment.
Let’s begin the process of eradicating this raging epidemic that remains the most critical concern of the nation.