How Guyana is trying to combat its high suicide rate


[Many thanls to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Gemma Handy (BBC) brings attention to the sad reality of Guyana’s suicide rate—44.2 in every 100,000 Guyanese take their own lives, compared to a global average of 16—especially in rural areas, but also focuses on the work being done at centers such as the Sunrise Center in Zorg-En-Vlygt, which is funded by The Guyana Foundation, to alleviate the stress and combat stigma of mental health issues.

Chattering amiably, heads bent over plugs and wires, enthusiasm among students in the electrical installation class is palpable. The bright welcoming venue, framed by rice paddies, looks the picture of pastoral contentment. But behind its creation lies an unsettling reality. This upbeat community centre was built to address the devastating number of suicides both here on the scenic Essequibo Coast – and in Guyana itself, which holds the dubious distinction of the highest suicide rate in the world. World Health Organization figures claim 44.2 in every 100,000 Guyanese take their own lives, compared to a global average of 16.

Shining a light on suicide

The Guyana Foundation, the charity behind the Sunrise Center in Zorg-En-Vlygt, has been integral in dragging the phenomenon into the national conversation in a country where stigma surrounding mental health issues has long hindered efforts to alleviate them. A lack of adequate mainstream facilities and woefully outdated legislation – which still defines patients as “idiots” suffering “derangement” – are just some of the obstacles, says the centre’s managing director Anthony Autar.

Attempted suicide is still technically illegal in Guyana, carrying a custodial sentence of two years, although measures are under way to decriminalise it. “When considering mental health issues, we also look at people’s ability to contribute to society,” Mr Autar tells the BBC. “Learning a skill like catering or floral arrangement can improve their sense of worth and outlook for the future.”

Dress-making, tie-dye and yoga are also among the free courses open to the public at the facility which launched operations in June, ahead of its official October 29 opening.

“We often find people who come here are isolated and don’t have many strong connections. We encourage students to build friendships with each other; those relationships can help save someone’s life if they’re feeling suicidal,” Mr Autar adds.

Attendees are routinely invited to complete questionnaires assessing their emotional wellbeing and are informed about the free counselling services offered. It’s part of a proactive approach to tackle depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and remove stigma by teaching people such feelings “are as common as diabetes”, says counsellor Haimraj Hamandeo. [. . .]

[Photo above: The Sunrise Center aims to help drive down Guyana’s high suicide rates.]

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See previous posts and

Of related interest: Suicide Rates by Country, and PAHO Country Rep questions Guyana’s escalating suicide rate,

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