Decriminalise suiciden

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Dear Editor:

The recent arrest of a young person for attempted suicide drives home the need for suicide to be decriminalised. It is moot to reiterate that but for the politicising of this issue it would have been a done deal since 2016. May we also once again point out, that last year, the International Association for Suicide Prevention embraced the call for suicide to be decriminalised everywhere in the world where that is still not the case.

Many nations have mandated that anyone who verbalizes suicide ideation or exhibits signs of suicide be immediately reported so that that person can be provided with necessary help. The Caribbean Voice (TCV) believes that it is time for Guyana to join those nations. Of course mandatory reporting would entail a national campaign to sensitize the population about warning signs and suicide ideation language as well as to emphasize that no signs or ideation should ever be treated as a joke, no matter how many times an individual may have exhibited same and no matter how drunk a person may be when exhibiting same.

As well, given that ingestion of poison in the leading means of suiciding in Guyana, we strongly urge that immediate steps be taken to mitigate the effects of ingested poisoning. In 2016 the then government had announced plans to establish poison control centres in various areas across the country. Those plans are still on paper.


Meanwhile in a May 2019 discussion with TCV, toxicologist, Verrol Simmons of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad & Tobago, we were informed that Dr. Simmons was willing to travel to Guyana and impart training with respect to steps that can be taken to immediately mitigate the effects of poisoning while medical help is sought. According to Dr. Simmons, he was told in 2014, by a Guyana government representative, that he would in fact be facilitated to provide that training but the invitation never materialised. This invitation should now be sent.

This training can be a component of a pesticide suicide safety and prevention program. Many such successful programs have been implemented around the world with the World Health Organization supported Shri Lanka Hazard Prevention Model being highly touted.  We suggest that a train the trainers programme be implemented in both respects and those so trained can then fan out across the nation to pass on the training.

With respect to media guidelines for reporting suicide, training sessions had been held for journalists in Guyana but the effects of such training are non-existent in media reporting. Thus, for example, media still writes ‘committ suicide’ instead of dying by suicide or suiciding. This is only one example of suicide inappropriate language still being used by the media. As well, photos of suicide victims are still published in some instances, suicide reportage is still somewhat sensationalized and given too much prominence, consideration is still not being given to privacy concerns of victims and their families, inclusion of appropriate prevention messages and information in all reportage is still lacking and so on. The best media guidelines for reporting suicide – MINDFRAME  – have been put together in Australia and TCV suggests that the related government ministries collaborate with the press association to make this training pervasive and then set up a monitoring committee to work towards the implementation of the appropriate media guidelines, as Trinidad & Tobago, for example, has done.

Also, there is need for an upgraded support mechanism that includes counseling across the board instead of selectively. As well a national campaign needs to be launched to make the general public aware of this mechanism and how to access the help without having to jump through hoops.

Finally, we again suggest that the suicide helpline be revamped, taking cues from the domestic violence hotline recently launched. Of critical importance is the need to build trust in those who operate the hotline and those who provide the necessary counseling and other interventions and to ensure those who call are comfortable confiding in whoever is assigned to help them.

The Caribbean Voice

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