NGOs making inroads on suicide prevention
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Executive Director of Youth Challenge Guyana Dmitri Nicholson
Executive Director of Youth Challenge Guyana Dmitri Nicholson

…several centres set-up countrywide in EU-funded project

YOUTH Challenge Guyana (YCG) and its partners Merundoi and Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness (FACT), are making steady progress in improving access to mental health and emotional wellness services in Guyana under their joint civil society European Union (EU) funded project.

The 463,000 Euros project is designed to increase the number of protective services accessible to people at risk of suicide through a collaborative network. In providing Guyana Chronicle with a progress report, Executive Director of Youth Challenge Guyana, Dmitri Nicholson, said since the signing of the multimillion-dollar agreement in February, 2017, 11 counseling sites have been established within key organisations in Region Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and 10.

There are two Hope for All counseling sites in Region Two; Exceptional Centre for Children and Youth in Region Three; Monique’s Caring Hand and Merundoi in Region Four, United Bricklayers in Regions Five and Six; Comforting Hearts, Mibicuri Community Developers and FACT in Region Six; and Linden Care Foundation in Region 10. Youth Challenge Guyana offers much needed support to the counselors who are dispatched to the 11 organisations.

According to Nicholson, since the launch of the project in 2017, the response to the services provided has been promising, with trained counselors not only assisting persons who are prone to suicide but also those experiencing emotional distress as a result of domestic issues and other related matters.

For 2017, over 1000 persons were counseled under the project, the majority of them completing at least three sessions. “We have thwarted maybe 12 to 15 attempted suicides, because not all self-harm is considered suicide but we would have had maybe like 50 self-harm cases where we intervened,” the YCG Executive Director told this newspaper.
It was further explained, that many of the clients that accessed counseling within the identified regions, do so through the Guyana Inter-agency Suicide Prevention Help Line. The help lines are operational 24/7 and include 223-0818, 223-0009, 223-0001, 600-7896 and 623-4444.

“The help line is primary number that is promoted for our counselors. Persons who have emotional distress or suicidal thoughts or persons who have attempted suicide, can call the help line, and the help line will refer them to one of our counselors,” Nicholson said, while noting that the help line is the link between the clients and the counselors. The Guyana Inter-agency Suicide Prevention Help Line has been working closely with Youth Challenge Guyana since March 2017 on the project.

Though more persons are now receiving counseling, Nicholson said counseling is still very much taboo in the country, and the next phase of the project, which will be rolled out by Merundoi, will tackle just that by promoting behavioral change. Merundoi will be producing a number of television serials raising much needed awareness about counseling and its usefulness in tackling some of the issues faced by persons in today’s society.

“We want people to know that it is ok to get counseling,” he told this newspaper, while underscoring the importance of removing that perception that counseling is for the weak.
“We have created an image where people who go to counseling may be weak and fragile, but we are trying to change that image because professionals go to counseling as well, and yes, you can talk to people in your community but if they don’t have the skills, if they don’t have the kind of tools, they could only talk, but with a counselor you might be able to get some tools on how to cope, how to manage yourself and improve your own self-awareness,” Nicholson said.

He assured that the counselors under the project have received the necessary training to provide the required service.
“Most of the counselors that we have are persons who have been working in the NGO environment for a very long time, so they understand community mobilisation. They understand the communities in which their organisations are functioning, they understand the people who they are interacting with on many of the occasions, so they have quite an adept grasp of the issues,” he explained.

Many of the counselors underwent a number of training programmes in the area of counseling, some of whom gained valuable experience under HIV Prevention Counseling Programmes. Additionally, there are quality control mechanisms in place to ensure persons utilizing the services under the project receive the best. In some cases, clients are referred to Government institutions specialized in areas of interest.

Turning his attention to FACT – a non-governmental organisation – based in Region Six, the YCG Executive Director said the organisation plays a key role, noting that when they were writing for the project in 2016, suicide was prevalent in the Region Six, in addition to domestic abuse.

“Because FACT has the tools and the reach, FACT is the partner that helps us to understand and navigate that region, so it has also cultural peculiarities, that ‘me’ as a city person might not understand,” he explained.
At the end of the project in 2020, it is expected that at least 3000 persons in the age range of 14 to 45 years would have benefited from counseling.

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