The tragedies of the mentally unstable wandering the country’s streets and the continuing domestic violence, murders and suicides point to a mental health crisis that is largely being
ignored by the government and private organizations, says the founder of the Guyana Foundation Supriya Bodden.
According to Bodden, those who are left to sleep on the streets, women who are beaten with hateful words before finally being stabbed to death by their angry spouses, and youth attempting to bury their depression in suicide are victims in the tragic stories among the underprivileged in society.
In her small office in Lamaha Gardens, Bodden sat with psychologist Latchman Narain recently to discuss what they called a “mental illness crisis” in Guyana. Bodden said Guyana was in denial that there is a mental health problem that is rapidly escalating and resulting in the casual loss of lives.
“We would prefer to sweep it under the nearest rug and not let people around the world know the level of mental health crisis that we have,” she said, declaring that the Guyana Foundation,
a non-profit organization, was not prepared to sit and watch the loss of lives build up. “Something has to be done and it has to be done urgently.”
The Guyana Foundation recently started a National Mental Health Programme, in a quest to decrease mental illness, through seminars and interactions with communities. It has put up posters in private schools, supermarkets and the University of Guyana to educate the populace on the different types of mental illnesses, and how to recognise, and understand them.
Bodden said mental health has deteriorated to an all-time low here and the Guyana Foundation has been seeking partnership with professionals to further propel its drive to change the
situation. The aim, she said, is to give people hope and offer a place where they can find help.
Presently, Guyana is ranked fourth in suicides per capita worldwide and has the highest rate among South American and Caribbean countries. According to studies, about 40% of people
who commit suicide do so by ingesting poison. This country had recorded 111 suicides for 2013, with the highest rate coming from Region Six.
It is important, Bodden said, for the people who are suffering to know they are not alone. Even though the Foundation does not provide counselling or psychological help, it considers itself
the network to the professionals. Since it has commenced operations, the Foundation has prepared a list of professionals people can talk to for free given that most people do not have
the finances to visit a psychologist or professional counselor and pay for frequent sessions.
Bodden observed that when there is an absence of support mechanisms, mental illness tends to escalate and explode in violence and finally hit the front page of newspapers. “The
casualties are mounting up,” she said.
Narain, who is a counselling psychologist and the head of the Anger Management Center of
Toronto Incorporated, said society has become almost numb to the homeless people, shrouded
in rags that are sleeping on the streets. “The Guyanese society is desensitised with respect to
these people, because we have a tendency to blame them for their present state.
People come up with some sort of excuse or irrational explanation in order to reduce the
dissonance in their mind.”
“For example, when we see someone on the street we say, ‘Oh, he is lazy or he drink too
much of rum’ and we can live with that.”
The portion of people living on the streets was just a slice of the people living with mental
illness, Narain said. He added: “Many people are suffering locked up in their homes or they go
about their everyday business with the issues hidden away in their minds.”
According to Narain, mental health is disrupted when an individual stops functioning in their
everyday life, and when they stop realising their potential and ability to work productively and
make significant contributions to society. He described mental health and mental illness on a
continuum, with mental illness having a spectrum of disorders.
He explained that the extreme form of mental illness is schizophrenia where people lose
contact with reality, while disorders which are nearer to mental health, such as depression,
personality disorders and bipolar disorders, allow for some sort of connection with reality.
Narain added that some countries had pushed mental illness aside, refusing to acknowledge
its presence. “In some countries, only the wealthy have access to counselling while the poorer
section of people suffer.”
Impulsivity and alcohol
He also said impulsivity looms large over Guyanese youth, as the rate of suicide climbs, while
adding that impulsive emotions was more pronounced in Indo-Guyanese youth. “My
hypothesis is that they act a lot on emotions and don’t reflect on their behaviour.”
Narain explained that there were three minds—the emotional mind, the rational mind and the
wise mind, which is a balance of the other two minds. The extreme mind is considered to be
the emotional mind. He said suicide occurs when the emotional mind overpowers the rational
Alcohol, a depressant, was also a contributor to suicide, Narain said. “If you drink alcohol a lot,
it depresses you because it is a depressant and depression is a gateway to suicide. Alcoholics
become depressed … this is layers of depression. It is a form of suffering.”
He added that traumatic events could also quicken depression and eventually lead to suicide.
“When I encounter people who are depressed or so angry that they are bordering on suicide, I
ask them to think about who will be hurt when they attempt suicide, it’s a way to get their
attention off of themselves and gradually we ask them if it will make sense… to think about
their family when they die or if they are single who would they hurt and if they would they
want to hurt that person,” he noted.
He further stated that domestic abuse, more specifically violence against women, stems from
underlying emotions such as jealousy and rage. He said when some men have sexual
intercourse with women, they tend to think that her sexuality and body belonged to them and
if she engages in a relationship with another man they become ‘blindly angry.’
“Most men think if they are violent, that makes them a real man but the psychology looks at
the underlying emotions and this may be pride and jealousy,” he said, noting that when
jealousy is intertwined with rage, the highest level of anger, it creates a synergistic effect and
the result would be a volcanic eruption of violence.
“Most men only know how to deal with pain through violence and anger. And usually after
having a rage episode they are remorseful and cannot understand what happened in that
moment especially if they were drinking…,” he said.
Narain would usually counsel men by getting them to understand that if they kill a woman they
are killing somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter and somebody’s sister. This way he shifts
the attention from the individual that is mentally ill.
“Education is the way out. So educate, educate. Raise awareness on the different layers of
mental illness, on what they look like and what they feel like”, he advised.
He said those people living on the streets have been deserted by everyone— the pedestrian,
their families and the organisations—while those teenagers taking their lives were not given a
chance to be heard.
Also, those men killing their girlfriends and wives would usually be left hanging their heads in
confusion and regret because of their actions during a period of mental illness.
Source: Stabroek News - http://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/news/stories/03/15/mental-health-crisis-ignored/