Talking suicide prevention with the school children of Guyana
Citizens Against Suicide Guyana a grassroot outreach group, took their Suicide Is Not The Answer program to several communities across Guyana and spoke to over 3,500 students in 17 secondary schools on finding their purpose and choosing life over death.
This group consisting of a few overseas based Guyanese, Roy Ganga a motivational speaker and his wife Valerie from Atlanta, Georgia; Shalini Ramkinshun a Social Worker from Toronto Canada; as well as local Representative Orin Thomas. These individual after reading about the suicide epidemic in Guyana, pooled their personal resources and used their time to share their expertise with students and communities.
Their focus was through general education by talking to the students, teachers and parents on the importance of life as a whole, which includes handling bullying, peer pressure, child molestation, sexual orientation/gender identification, parental pressure, depression and alcohol & drugs usage, with the hope that their efforts will supplement what the authorities (Health and Education Ministries) are doing to empower citizens with the knowledge and tools to curb this epidemic.
The local communities were extremely supportive and receptive of the groups’ effort. He went on to further state that by reaching the youths through real life scenarios will make a positive impact on their lives. Being a stroke survivor, having to live with a visual disability and experiencing bout of depression, Mr. Ganga can relate to individuals battling similar mental health issues by letting them know they are not alone.
We emphasized that mental health is not a character defeat and it does not mean that individuals are weak or flawed, it only means that they have more pain than others can cope with and even thought it might seems overwhelming and permanent at this moment but with time and the right support they can overcome their problems.
During his visits and talks, we observed a few areas where we feel immediate action could be taken that would have a positive impact on saving lives due to suicide.
Unlike the large cities like Georgetown where there is a reasonable ratio of counsellors to schools, we noticed that in the cities/villages where suicide is prevalent, there are no or very few counsellors or social workers in the schools. The youths in these areas, predominantly in Regions 2 Essequibo Coast and Region 6 Berbice, Corentyne, have no trained individuals that would be able to counsel them through their problems, which ultimately leads to them ending their lives prematurely.
To help close this gap, we suggested that teachers need to be trained on observing behavioral changes in their students, and be able to identify early signs of depression. This would mean having personal conversations with troubled youths and develop a trusted and safe forum where the youths can openly share their concerns. Understanding the root cause of the problem would enable the teachers to be better able to address the concerns with student and parents. Another noticeable observation is the level of poverty facing families across the country.
There are scenarios where students who cannot afford anything of substance, even to have lunch, are taunted by their peers. Additionally, whenever there are school functions where the students need to contribute, the students that cannot afford to contribute are told not to participate because they never bring anything. Shockingly enough some of these remarks are made by their teachers.
Also observed is an instance where a school has refused to accept a disabled child because the teachers cannot spend time and address the needs of this student. As a result this 7 year old child does not attend school. Communities throughout have expressed concerns regarding the lack of efforts by the Ministries and other government agencies in providing support to curb the suicide crisis facing their local communities.
In collaboration with the Sai Organization of Guyana, this group intends to provide ongoing outreach support to the communities. He believes that it will take a village to help solve the crisis by involving everyone to step up, reach out and make things happen.