Your Mental Health is important!
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FOR many of us, Mental Health might be a sensitive topic, but it is one that we need to keep talking about if we are going to raise awareness on it and encourage more people to take charge of their health.

Last weekend, I attended a training session on Mental Health that was organised by the Guyana Press Association and I thought I would share a bit of what I learnt.

According to the Head of the Mental Health Unit, at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Util Thomas, there have been 184 suicide cases in 2017 (127 males and 47 females), while in 2018, this was reduced to 141 cases (117 males and 24 females).

This was a marked decrease from the period 2010 to 2012 when the country was pegged at having the highest suicide rates in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, Guyana had 667 reported suicide attempts between those years, resulting in an average of 200 deaths per year.

More than mere statistics, I think this shows that there are several persons who have been grappling with issues that negatively affected their mental health- so much so that they decided to take their own lives. And if that isn’t a cause for concern, I don’t know what is.

Suicide has been identified as a public health issue, and much focus has been given to mental health seeing as suicide is related to one’s mental health status.

What I can appreciate is that efforts to normalise taking care of one’s mental health have become more widespread. I think that people are becoming a bit more cognizant of the importance of maintaining mental health, with the same emphasis placed on physical wellbeing. I think we realised at some point in more recent times that suicide, and mental health by extension, was a stark issue in our country; our people were hurting and we needed to do something.

I personally know of so many efforts being made to raise awareness of mental health and suicide. The Ministry upped its focus on mental health in 2016 when it moved to establish the Mental Health Unit and since then, that unit has been striving to build capacities at other medical institutions across the country.

In fact, Dr. Richmond Thomas indicated that the integration of mental health into primary health care is an extremely important strategy for the Public Health Ministry and the mental health of all Guyanese since it allows for a more focused approach to the matter.

Aside from those efforts, many of the youth groups I am part of, or I have attended sessions for, have emphasised getting young people to talk about mental health and importantly, learn more about it.

At the same time, however, I do believe that there is still a lot more acceptance and education needed so that more persons can move from a place of stigma and misconception to a place of empathy and encouragement. We have to move away from labelling mentally ill persons as “mad people” and become more sensitive to their plight and lived experiences.

At this session, it was also made known that substance abuse and self-harm were indicators that persons may be suffering from some mental illness.

In fact, Dr. Thomas stressed that self-harm is the strongest indicator of a future suicide attempt since it was found that many persons who commit suicide would have had several incidences of self-harm in their past. And I think it is well-known that substance abuse leads to a myriad of issues.

If you or anyone you know might need assistance, the Public Health Ministry is offering services at its Mental Health Unit which is located at Quamina Street, Georgetown from 08:00 hours to 16:00 hours during the week.

There is also the suicide hotline managed by various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the Guyana Police Force and other agencies to help curb the issue. If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed and possibly contemplating suicide, please call the Guyana Inter-agency Suicide Helpline which operates 24 hours and is organised by the Guyana Police Force. Telephone -223-0001, 223-0009, 223-0818 Cellphone – 600-7896, 623-4444.

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