THE Ministry of Public Health’s Mental Health Unit and Adolescent Health Unit, in collaboration with the Rotaract Club of Georgetown, on Saturday evening, held the first of a series of webinars to tackle suicide ideation among Guyana’s adolescent population.
Spearheading the discussion, titled ‘Suicide and Family’, the ministry’s Health Education Officer, Tashia James, stated that, in recent years, mental health has become a much talked about subject with many highlighting the importance of having a sound mental health and raising awareness for suicide prevention.
She added that while Guyanese are becoming more aware of the subject, there is still a lot more to be done to address suicide across the country.
James, during her presentation, stated that lending a listening ear or providing a shoulder to cry on is one big step in preventing suicide.
She said even asking someone about their wellbeing can go a long way.
“When someone you know is in crisis or depressed, asking them if they are having suicidal thoughts can help…when persons are talking, we have to listen and respond to help,” James said, adding: “We need to listen; listening does not just entail listening to the things that are being said but listening to those things that are also not being said. Listening is a skill that, with time, we are going to learn as individuals.”
James further explained that there are many layers to listening and helping someone who might be suffering from mental health issues or suicidal ideation.
“Sometimes not every person that is suicidal or having these ideations will say. They will start doing things, they will start giving away things or making arrangements or leaving little clues here and there …some may say something in action and so we have to listen for those actions as well.”
Joining the discussion, Alicia Solomon, a social worker attached to the ministry’s Mental Health Unit, noted that when approaching the conversation of mental health and suicide, especially when dealing with teenagers, one should approach the conversation with an open mind.
“Listen without judgement. In the Guyanese society we tend to think we always know the answer especially when that person might be a teenager, and that is why a lot of times our teenagers do not come to us. They are afraid that they are being judged or they are being put down.”
She added that parents should not be afraid to have such conversations and ask direct questions about their children or teenagers’ emotions or mental state.
“Ask open-ended questions …take time out to have conversations and when you are having these conversations and things are not clear remember to have an open mind and don’t be afraid to ask.”
In concluding the discussion, Solomon highlighted that persons should be on the lookout for the early signs of depression and suicidal ideation to provide their loved ones with the assistance they may need.
Some of the earlier signs she mentioned are significant changes in behaviour or appearance, social withdrawal or isolation, suicide notes or plans, preoccupation with death and making final arrangements.
Statistics shared by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security disclosed that for the first quarter of 2021 there have been 147 suicides, with 120 being men. Nineteen of those were persons 5-19 years while 109 were between 20 and 60 years. Regions Three, Four and Six accounted for the largest numbers of those deaths.
During the first half of 2021, 30 children attempted suicide with 25 being females. Reports revealed that approximately 30% of children aged 15-19 years couldn’t share their problems with anyone.