Suicide helpline should be revamped
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Dear Editor,
THE recent arrest of a young person for attempted suicide drives home the need for suicide to be decriminalised. It is moot to reiterate that but for the politicising of this issue it would have been a done deal since 2016. May we also once again point out, that last year, the International Association for Suicide Prevention embraced the call for suicide to be decriminalised everywhere in the world, where that is still not the case. And so The Caribbean Voice (TCV) hopes that the intent to get this done, expressed by the Minister of Health recently, will finally come to fruition.
Many nations have mandated that anyone who verbalises suicide ideation or exhibits signs of suicide be immediately reported, so that that person can be provided with necessary help. The TCV believes that it is time for Guyana to join those nations. Of course, mandatory reporting would entail a national campaign to sensitise the population about warning signs and suicide-ideation language, as well as to emphasise that no signs or ideation should ever be treated as a joke, no matter how many times an individual may have exhibited same and no matter how drunk a person may be when exhibiting same.

Also, given that ingestion of poison in the leading means of suicide in Guyana, we strongly urge that immediate steps be taken to mitigate the effects of ingested poisoning. In 2016, the then government had announced plans to establish poison-control centres in various areas across the country. Those plans are still on paper.
Meanwhile, in a May 2019 discussion with TCV, toxicologist Verrol Simmons of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad & Tobago, we were informed that Dr. Simmons was willing to travel to Guyana and impart training with respect to steps that can be taken to immediately mitigate the effects of poisoning while medical help is sought. According to Dr. Simmons, he was told in 2014 by a Guyana Government representative that he would in fact be facilitated to provide that training, but the invitation never materialised. This invitation should now be sent.

This training can be a component of a pesticide suicide safety and prevention programme. Many such successful programmes have been implemented around the world with the World Health Organisation supported Shri Lanka Hazard Prevention Model being highly touted.  We suggest that a train-the-trainers programme be implemented in both respects and those so trained can then fan out across the nation to pass on the training.
With respect to media guidelines for reporting suicide, training sessions had been held for journalists in Guyana, but the effects of such training are non-existent in media reporting. Thus, for example, media still writes ‘commit suicide’ instead of dying by suicide. This is only one example of suicide-inappropriate language still being used by the media. Also, photos of suicide victims are still published in some instances; suicide reportage is still somewhat sensationalised and given too much prominence; consideration is still not being given to privacy concerns of victims and their families; inclusion of appropriate prevention messages and information in all reportage are still lacking, and so on.

The best media guidelines for reporting suicide – MINDFRAME–have been put together in Australia and TCV suggests that the related government ministries collaborate with the press association to make this training pervasive and then set up a monitoring committee to work towards implementation of the appropriate media guidelines, as Trinidad & Tobago, for example, has done. Also, there is need for an upgraded support mechanism that includes counselling across the board, instead of selectively. Moreover, a national campaign needs to be launched to make the general public aware of this mechanism and how to access the help without having to jump through hoops.

Again, the suicide helpline should be revamped, taking cues from the domestic violence hotline recently launched, among them easy and quick access to counselling, trained phone responders, and linkages with the police to ensure that help is quickly available for those in need. Of critical importance is the need to build trust in those who operate the hotline and those who provide the necessary counselling and other interventions and to ensure that those who call are comfortable confiding in whoever is assigned to help them. Finally , as with domestic violence hotlines, we urge that suicide helplines with an appropriate message be also sent to all mobile phone users on a regular basis.

Sincerely
The Caribbean Voice

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