Urgent, extensive need for help

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Dear Editor,
IN an interview with NCN’s Access Health programme on September 29, The Caribbean Voice (TCV)’s Managing Director for Guyana, Bibi Ahamad, shared contact info for TCV, the Suicide Helpline and a number of other NGOs, so those needing help for mental health issues can reach out.

Since the interview was aired, Bibi has been inundated with calls and messages from Guyanese seeking help. 300-plus so far with requests still coming in. The range of issues for which help is sought includes: Abuse, sex, child and gender-based; suicide, ideation, depression, stress, self-harm, dysfunctional relationships, alcoholism and drug use/abuse and a number of direct mental-health illnesses.

Since TCV launched its suicide and abuse prevention campaign in 2014, we have dealt with over 450 counselling cases from over 25 different nations, with the majority being Guyanese. Most of these cases have been handled by our team of highly credentialed and experienced counsellors from Guyana, the US, Canada and Jamaica. Additionally, we have referred more than 100 cases in Guyana to overworked but willing counsellors from the Regional Administrations, Mental Health Unit, the Suicide Helpline and other NGOs. Cases involving children have also been referred to the Childcare and Protection Agency, which is doing an awesome job.

A few times we attempted to persuade clients to make contact with the Ministry of Social Protection, but they absolutely refused, claiming that the Ministry generally gives callers the run around, and/or says they cannot help, even though the Ministry has often publicised the range of assistance available. TCV was once told the Ministry does not have personnel to process the assistance.

Also, we have found that many, over the years, have been and continue to be unwilling to call the Suicide Helpline. The reasons given include lack of trust and empathy and an inability to emotively connect. TCV has written about this before, and we have suggested that the Helpline be moved from the police and housed either at an appropriate ministry or a special unit set up to handle it. We have also suggested that responders be trained in emphatic communication, and that resource personnel include priests from the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, the response to the interview, contrary to a long-held myth, makes it clear that people are willing to reach out for help, but that often they are alienated and demonised. Besides, most of those who seek help prefer face-to-face connections after initial phone contacts, but while some are willing to travel to meet counsellors, others request that counsellors travel to meet them. This can be time-consuming, as often it takes an entire day to deal with just one individual or family. And almost all of those who seek help are generally unable to pay for counselling. In fact, there have been occasions when TCV even had to cover client’s transportation. In effect, those without the financial means have very little access to assistance.

Meanwhile, TCV expresses our gratitude to all media, especially the Stabroek News, Guyana Times, Kaieteur News and Guyana Chronicle, that have not only been placing significant focus on mental health in general, but more specifically abuse and suicide. The role of the media in addressing these issues cannot be overemphasised. Our appeal is for the media to continually publish coping information and evidence- based strategies, and to encourage others to seek help for those in need, since suicidal persons and abused victims are generally unable and/or unwilling to do so.

We also urge the media to focus on organisations that are engaged in activism, advocacy and assistance on the mental health landscape, so that people will know that help may very well be available in their own backyards. TCV can provide a list of such organisations. And we appeal to the media to use suicide, abuse and mental health-appropriate language at all times, to help debunk myths and misinformation, and to help expose quacks who pretend to be counsellors or mental health experts, since they can cause significant damage.

Sincerely,
The Caribbean Voice