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Suicide by Poison - Guyana

Poison preferred method of suicide in Guyana
Photo Credit: Guyana Chronicle

In his article, “Guyana’s breakdown is connected to our high suicide rate,” published in Kaieteur News on February 6, 2016, Freddie Kissoon posits that an underlying cause of Guyana’s alarming suicide rate is “the political pessimism that has dogged this country since Independence.” Bear in mind that the controversial columnist, a former social science university lecturer, has been highly critical of the former ruling East Indian left-wing political party (1992-2015).

A small developing Caribbean nation with a declining population of less than 750,000 people (Census 2012), Guyana topped the chart of the World Health Organization’s 2014 report on suicide worldwide, based on data for the year 2012. With a suicide rate of 44.2 per 100,000 persons, Guyana beat South Korea (28.9) and Sri Lanka (28.8). At the time, Guyana’s health authority claimed a much lower rate of 34.7. The nation’s record represented almost four times the global average of 11.4 and over seven times the average of 6.1 for Latin American and the Caribbean. By gender, Guyanese men are much more prone to taking their lives than women with rates of 70.8 and 22.1, respectively.

Pressed to address these glaring figures, the government launched its National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2015-2020 in September 2015. Studies undertaken by both foreign and local research groups reveal that East Indians, who make up an estimated 43 percent of the total population, account for 80 percent of all suicides. What’s more, they live in rural areas where pesticides and herbicides are easily available – the preferred method of 66 percent of suicides. Afro-Guyanese, the second-largest ethnic group account for only 11 percent of suicides.

A study of suicidal behavior for the period 2010-2012 indicates that individuals between ages 10 to 29 are more likely to attempt suicide. Those who actually ended their lives ranged from 20 to 49 years old. Depression and anger are the most common causes of suicide. Other factors include economic problems, domestic violence, family discord, issues between couples, and alcohol abuse.

Kissoon attributes the “uncontrollable angst” driving suicidal inclinations to disillusionment with the East Indian political party that held power from 1992 to 2015. He claims that analyses of research data may be subject to “academic dishonesty” for fear of politicizing the issue. Admission “that the long years of [their] misrule contributed to the alarming rate of suicide among East Indian folks from the rural sections of Guyana” would not be forthcoming from researchers affiliated with the East Indian political party.

Recalling my own disillusion and angst as a young undergraduate during the autocratic government of my generation, I share Kissoon’s conclusion that there exists a connection between the nation’s broken bureaucracy and its high suicide rate. When youth is under stress and would chose to self-destruct, support from within the home and society are failing to inspire hope for a better tomorrow. Following fifty years of political oppression and corruption, the present coalition government remains burdened with conditioned ways of thinking and behaving.