As local bodies continue efforts to reduce Guyana’s staggering suicide rates, a local stakeholder believes that the release of statistics on suicide could actually significantly aid suicide prevention efforts.
Managing Director of The Guyana Foundation (GF), Anthony Autar, opined that underreporting on suicide could do more harm than good.
GF is a local nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on mental health issues.
Autar stressed that revealing statistics would do no harm. “Overall, revealing stats, I don’t see the harm in it; I think only good would come from that. It would help show the public and the stakeholders how vast is the problem we’re dealing with. It would provide them with information to properly tailor whatever programmes they’re trying to implement. So, I think it’d be very helpful,” Autar said.
Rather, Autar opined that the only harm that could arise from revealing statistics on suicides is the extent to which the reports are made.
“What would do harm is if you reveal all of the details of how the person ended or attempted to end his or her life. That is what could cause the copycats [persons replicating suicides],” he said.
However, while Autar believed that releasing suicide statistics could be helpful, he noted that in Guyana the stats might not be completely accurate. He said, too, that getting a hold of the information was oftentimes made difficult. He shared that in the past he would have requested suicide statistics from the relevant bodies but his efforts would have been in vain.
“Even if the stats are made available, they might not be up to date statistics,” he said.
In the past concerns were expressed that the suicide statistics coming out of the Guyana Police Force, the body responsible for recording suicides, was greatly underreported.
Autar believed that while the police should indeed play a role in suicide prevention, that role should not be a leading one. He said that greater trust must be established between the populace and the police for such a sensitive area.
“The police have a role to play but they’re not the only ones who should be involved in dealing with mental health issues. They also shouldn’t have the lead role. Their function is to play the supporting role,” he said.
Currently, the police force is involved in suicide prevention strategies, including its Cops and Faith programme as well as the Inter-Agency Suicide Hotline, spearheaded by the police force.
“I think the reason you see the police being pushed to the forefront when it comes to dealing with mental health is because of the misconception that people with mental illnesses are naturally violent so people believe that the police needs to get involved to control that person,” Autar said.
However, he added, this is oftentimes not true. “Only a small percentage of people with mental illnesses become violent and most of them do that when they engage in substance abuse. There are some with schizophrenia who will become violent but overall, very few people with mental illnesses engage in acts of violence.”
He further said that in other countries studies show that people diagnosed with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be victims of acts of violence than the perpetrators.
He continued, “So, we don’t really know about that in Guyana so that’s why we’ll see the police being pushed forward. Normally, when you hear about mental health issues in the news, it’s in regards to some act of violence being committed by someone who is said to be mentally ill.”
Interactions between the police and those perceived to be mentally ill have not always gone down well in Guyana’s history.
In July, Junior ‘Reggie’ Gulliver, 30, of Strathavon, East Coast Demerara, was shot dead by two police ranks. The officers had reportedly gone to Gulliver’s home to arrest him following reports that he had threatened a woman with a cutlass.
However, the police said that Gulliver attacked them with the weapon, forcing them to use their weapons.
A police source had maintained that the ranks had acted according to standard operating procedures and would have been killed if they had not shot Gulliver.
Autar stressed that the police must take up a supporting role in terms of mental health issues. He also opined that as part of its supporting role, the police can be an integral member in behavioural intervention teams.
“These are groups made up of trained counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, police, and in some instances a lawyer that can intervene and ensure that the whole spectrum of resources are available so that you’re not just looking at one aspect,” Autar explained.
He said that with the police, options are limited and they address only one part of the problem.
“We need to address the issues in a holistic manner because that’s going to be the only way we’ll see change happening.”
However, he said, the feasibility of something like a behavioural intervention team must be analysed, especially in a country like Guyana. He noted that Guyana severely lacks professionals in the areas of suicide and mental illnesses.
“The last thing you’d want to do is put people into the fields who are not properly qualified and they end up doing more harm than good,” he emphasised.