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Past Press Release & Articles

The Caribbean Voice launches Community Outreach and Students’ Self-Esteem Workshops

Depression – The Silent Killer

Barrels Of Liquor At CPL Cricket Guyana – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Suicide is not about unhappy people

Is it not time enough to

transform talk into walk?

Need for a holistic, concerted, sustained and multi-pronged approach to suicide

Let's all take a stand against all violence

2016 Wish List

Religious leaders must

break their silence

Guyanese Willing to Engage in Suicide Prevention But Hesitant to Intervene in Domestic Violence

Let’s Cherish our Elderly

Collaboration and Inclusion Essential to tackle Violence

Guyana - A Proposed Model for Integrated Healthcare

The Caribbean Voice Welcomes Suicide Helplines

Mental Health is a

Critical Needs Sector

Release Data Relating to the Suicide Hotlines

Violence in schools is neither pervasive nor deep-seated

Urgent Need for

Gatekeeper’s Program

Role of Media in

Covering Social Issues

The Five Ws of TCV

The Caribbean Voice

Takes its Message to Berbice

The Caribbean Voice backs call

for integrated health care

to tackle mental health

The Caribbean Voice is

tackling suicide in Guyana

Caribbean Voice looking to slow down Guyana’s high suicide rate

‘Caribbean Voice’ to honour

anti-suicide activists

Suicide In The Context Of Guyana

Caribbean Voice hopes for

a change in policies towards suicide and related issues

Tackling violence is a

national undertaking

How About Transforming Outrage into Action on Suicide in Guyana?

Bronx Group Aims to Lower Guyanese Suicide Rate

An open letter to the Social Security Minister

Collaboration and ongoing, concerted effort – The way forward

Caribbean Voice Urges National Conversation Amidst Another Guyanese Suicide

Time To Step Up On

Gender Violence

Myths & Misinformation

On Suicide

Petition to the President of

Guyana – Please establish a registry of sex offenders!

The Cost Of Suicide

Mode Of Dress Has Absolutely Nothing To With Rape

Violence In Caribbean Schools

Suicide and the Young

Pesticide Safety Campaign Urgently Needed

Suicides dropped by 50% in Sri Lanka’s Hazard Reduction Model

Suicide is not the forte

of any specific group

Abu Bakr is inaccurate

Suicide is Preventable

Stop the Misinformation; Implement Concrete

Measures Now

How about transforming

outrage into action?

God and me...

A National Conversation

on Mental Health is Needed

A multi-sectoral approach is needed to suicide prevention

Response to Police Commissioner on Suicide Helplines

Difficulties & Challenges

Should Not Be Deterrence to Measures To Save Lives

Perpetuating misinformation

and myths about suicide

compound the problem

 

 

 

 

Empathetic Communication

a viable tool in suicide prevention

October 15, 2016: As parents and teenagers usually do, a young lady had an argument with her mother. As the mother proceeded to verbally abuse her daughter (as far too any mothers do in such situations in nations like Guyana) the daughter angrily exclaimed ‘Me feel fuh tek wan dose poison”.

The mother responded, just as angrily, ‘Wait deh me go bring am”.

This exchange exemplifies the communication that frequently takes place in relationships, and often leads to suicide. In effect, lack of empathetic communication is a huge factor in suicide, especially in Guyana.

The fact is that empathetic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventual violence.

Empathetic communication is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message/words, and then provide an appropriate, non-threatening, affirming response. Through empathetic communication the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.” The effects include building of trust and respect; reduction of tension/conflict; free exchange of information and a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.

In using empathetic communication the listener must be attentive, interested alert and strive to create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behavior so that the speaker is neither afraid nor hesitant in communication. The listener must not discount the speaker’s feeling, interrupt the speaker unnecessarily, constantly give advise or lecture the person, criticize or condemn, but must display understanding and sympathy and let the speaker know that together the issues will be addressed.

Far too often the language used has driven loved ones to acts of violence, especially suicide. It is time for Guyanese to realize that the right communication is so essential to protecting and fostering relationships and to ensuring that no one is driven to suicide. Whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness.

Given that the 15 to 25 age group has the highest suicide rate in Guyana and that the this age group also is significantly affected by teenage pregnancy, rape, incest, increasing alcohol and drug use and physical and verbal abuse, it is critical that parents relearn use of language that would not alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste or make them feel, alone and lonely. And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be, on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today. Most importantly, parents need to feel any pain and agony their children suffer and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help things will get better, no matter what leads to the pain and agony.

With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved, parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that everyone makes mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact even adults continue to make mistakes. So when teens make mistakes, parents and loved ones must understand that it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on and parents must first help their teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made, then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And, when necessary, parents must reach for assistance if they feel that they are not fully capable of providing the help needed by their teenagers.

In effect, when that teenager stated that she felt like taking a dose of poison, the mother should have taken a deep breath, rush to hug her daughter and lovingly caution her to never ever say something like that again. A follow up, “do you know how much we love you” would also have been the right words to add.

Meanwhile The Caribbean Voice and its partners strongly recommend that a module in empathetic communication be included at the Teachers’ Training College, be offered as an in-service program for all current teachers, for all who man the social issues landscape, for all security personnel and all healthcare workers. The cost for doing this is negligible whereas the benefits would immeasurable.

 

Empathetic Communication

a viable tool in suicide prevention

October 6, 2016: The general consensus globally is that suicide prevention is a holistic endeavor and that any missing link in the chain will certainly significantly impede efforts to save lives. Within this context the work done in schools and, among the 15-25 age group, must be supplemented so that the endeavors reach every school, at least high schools and youth entity.

Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to follow the lead of NJASM and organize a nationwide campaign to reach remaining schools with the workshop on self esteem, self acceptance, self forgiveness and dealing with stressors. Feedback from workshops held by NJASM and TCV (in collaboration with our partners, especially GIVE Foundation), have been offered disturbing feedback, as across the board we have learnt that young people suffer from sexual abuse and to a lesser extent physical abuse and, as well, many have suffered/suffer from depression while some have even been suicidal. Also, drugs and alcohol are creeping into the school system. No wonder the 15 to 25 age group displays the highest suicide rate. This trend makes it urgently critical for guidance counselors to be posted to schools as soon as possible. So once again we call on the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, to fulfill his promise months ago to effect this measure.

The lives of children are more important than anything else and whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness. Thus parents must not use language that would alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste or make them feel, alone and lonely. And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences, as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be on their teenagers since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today. Most importantly, parents need to understand any pain and agony their children suffer and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help things will get better.

With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that everyone makes mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact even as adults people still continue to make mistakes. So when teens make mistakes parents and loved ones must understand that its not the end of the world or even the end of life. Life goes on and parents must first help their teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made and then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And, when necessary, parents must reach for help if hey feel that they are not fully capable of providing the help needed by their teenagers.

While the focus here is on parents/children relationships, it must be noted that empathetic communication is also an important tool in all relationships and can be make a critical difference in adult relationships. The fact is that empathetic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventually violence.

Empathetic communication is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message/words, and then provide an appropriate, non-threatening, affirming response. Through empathic communication the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.” The effects include building of trust and respect; reduction of tension/conflict; free exchange of information and a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.

In using empathetic communication the listener must be attentive, interested alert and strive to create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behavior so that the speaker is neither afraid nor hesitant in communication. The listener must not discount the speaker’s feeling, interrupt the speaker unnecessarily, constantly give advise or lecture the person, never criticize or condemn, but must display understanding and sympathy and let the speaker know that together the issues will be addressed.

Far too often the language used has driven loved ones to suicide. It is time for Guyanese to realize that the right communication is so essential to protect and foster relationships and to ensure that no one is driven to suicide.

 

National Day of Prayer: Perspectives on Peace

Guyana Stabroek News, October 3, 2016: The Caribbean Voice is a New York based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998. Currently it is focusing on suicide prevention and related issues in Guyana and the Diaspora and is working in collaboration with partners – other NGOs, businesses, socially conscious individuals, the media and various ministries in Guyana. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org

“Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man.” — Mahatma Gandhi.

20140120diasporaA region wide candlelight vigil held at Anna Catherina on September 16th, rounded off the Voices Against Violence National Candlelight Vigil held to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, which was September 10th this year. Organized by the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex in collaboration with The Caribbean Voice, the Leonora vigil, addressed by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, was the last in over 300 vigils countrywide, organized by almost 40 different NGOs, faith based and community based organizations and other interests groups. The vigil campaign was publicly endorsed by Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan and supported by a number of business organizations, local government bodies and political groups.

Voices Against Violence was launched as an anti-violence initiative to build community togetherness, enable communities to mobilize for social action, foster nationwide collaborative efforts to tackle violence in all its forms and develop local leadership that will continue to organize efforts of this nature. The success of the candlelight vigil led to a decision to organize monthly activities under the Voices Against Violence theme and thus October has been earmarked a month of prayer with October 30th designated National Day of Prayer.

The organizations spearheading this month of prayer request all Guyanese households to pray for peace and non-violence throughout the month and to participate in any and all gatherings where prayers are held. Guyanese are also requested to organize prayer sessions nationwide on October 30th – mandirs, mosques, churches, satsangs, prayer meetings and any sort of gathering where prayers can take centre stage. Praying collectively as communities and group is the focus on this day but those who cannot do so can still pray as families or even as individuals.

Why prayers? Well when people are overwhelmed by major challenges, there is a tendency to seek out someone or something we believe has greater resources than we do to help us in, and through, those crises and God is often the number one resource in this respect. Besides there is a large body of compelling, empirical and authentic research which speaks very highly of the significant role spirituality plays in the physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing of humanity. In the US National Library of Medicine, a Journal dated October 2001 on the Role Of Spirituality In Health Care, Dr Christiana M. Puchalski, Professor of Medicine and Health Science at George Washington School of Medicine and Director of Spirituality and Health found that: “Those who are spiritual tend to have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life.”  And the University of Maryland Medical Centre in 2015 stated: “Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behaviour, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation.” In fact, Journalist Eric Nelson of Communities Digital News in March 2014 in his article on Spirituality and Health Care said: “With more than 75 per cent of all medical schools in the US having integrated spirituality into their training programmes – up from just three schools 20 years ago – it’s safe to say that this once marginalised subject has made it into the mainstream of modern medicine.”

Recent research indicates that prayer fosters self-control. Research participants who said a prayer prior to a mentally exhausting task were better able to exercise self-control following that task. In addition, other studies demonstrate the prayer reduces alcohol consumption, which may reflect the exercise of self-control. Also, researchers found that having people pray for those in need reduced the amount of aggression they expressed following an anger inducing experience. In other words, prayer helps you not lose your cool.

Prayer increases trust. Recent studies found that having people pray together with a close friend increased feelings of unity and trust. This finding is interesting because it suggests that praying with others can be an experience that brings people closer together. Social prayer may thus help build close relationships, enhance community togetherness and act as a brake against various forms of violence.

Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress. Researchers found that people who prayed for others were less vulnerable to the negative physical health effects associated with financial stress. Also, it was the focus on others that seemed to be contributing to the stress-buffering effects of prayer. Praying for material gain did not counter the effects of stress. So thinking about the welfare of others may be a crucial component of receiving personal benefits from prayer.

Furthermore, regular prayer and meditation has be shown in numerous scientific studies to be an important factor in living longer and staying healthy. The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of scores of double-blind studies over the past four decades. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine discovered what he calls “the relaxation response,” which occurs during periods of prayer and meditation. At such times, the body’s metabolism decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and our breath becomes calmer and more regular. This physiological state is correlated with slower brain waves, and feelings of control, tranquil alertness and peace of mind.

This is significant because Benson estimates that over half of all doctor visits in the U.S. today are prompted by illnesses, like depression, high blood pressure, ulcers and migraine headaches, that are caused at least in part by elevated levels of stress and anxiety. And high levels of stress can and do catalyze acts of violence.

Prayer is also the most widespread alternative therapy in the world today. Over 85 percent of people confronting a major illness pray, according to a University of Rochester study. That is far higher than taking herbs or pursuing other nontraditional healing modalities. And increasingly the evidence is that prayer works. Prayer then can reduce suicide ideation and lead to less suicides.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of Tibetan Buddhists in meditation and Franciscan nuns in prayer which showed comparable decreased activity in the parts of the brain that are associated with sense of self and spatial orientation in both groups. He also found that prayer and meditation increase levels of dopamine, which is associated with states of wellbeing and joy. Such states certainly influence actions in a positive manner and thus can reduce acts of violence.

In one National Institutes of Health funded study, individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer practice. Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong religious beliefs who underwent elective heart surgery were three times more likely to recover than those who were less religious. A 2011 study of inner city youth with asthma by researchers at the University of Cincinnati indicates that those who practised prayer and meditation experienced fewer and less severe symptoms than those who had not. Other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses. Furthermore, a recent survey reported in the Journal of Gerontology of 4,000 senior citizens in Durham, NC, found that people who prayed or meditated coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not.

But the question remains: By what physiological mechanisms does prayer impact our health? Herbert Benson’s most recent research suggests that long-term daily spiritual practices help to deactivate genes that trigger inflammation and prompt cell death. That the mind can effect the expression of our genes is exciting evidence for how prayer may influence the functioning of the body at the most fundamental level. In effect science tells that people who pray and meditate tend to be statistically more healthy and live longer than those who do not. And the positive effects on physical and mental well being can and do trigger less acts of violence both at the individual and societal levels.

In effect it is felt that, beset by violence as Guyana is no one can deny that challenges abound in the body social with dire effects on the national psyche.  Consequently, given the body of available evidence, it is felt that, at best, a month of prayers nation wide could very well impact the ongoing violence in a manner desired by all. At worst there can be no harm in all Guyanese praying together with hope that violence can be significantly reduced and peace given a greater chance.

 

Anti-violence NGOs designate October as month of prayer

Guyana Stabroek News, October 2, 2016: October has been designated a month of prayer by The Caribbean Voice and other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) behind the recently launched ‘Voices Against Violence’ cohesion initiative.

According to a press release from The Caribbean Voice, the successful staging of over 300 candlelight vigils countrywide, aimed at doubling collaborative efforts and fostering togetherness to tackle violence in all its forms, led to a decision to organize monthly activities under the ‘Voice against Violence’ theme. Against this background, October has been earmarked a month of prayer with October 30 designated as the National Day of Prayer.

The release said that the organisations spearheading this month of prayer request that all Guyanese households pray for peace and non-violence throughout the month and to also participate in any and all gatherings where prayers are held.

It stated too that Guyanese are also requested to organise prayer sessions nationwide on October 30 at mandirs, mosques, churches, satsangs, prayer meetings and any sort of gathering where prayers can “take centre stage.”

The release pointed out that praying collectively as communities and groups is the focus of the National Day of Prayer.

According to The Caribbean Voice, prayer was chosen because research participants who said a prayer prior to mentally exhausting tasks were better able to exercise self-control following that task. Additionally, the release said studies demonstrate that prayer reduces alcohol consumption, which may reflect the exercise of self-control. Researchers have also found that having people pray for those in need reduced the amount of aggression they expressed following anger inducing experiences. “In other words, prayers helps you not to lose your cool,” the release said.

It was also pointed out that prayer results in increased feelings of unity and trust and is an important factor in living longer and staying healthy.

“In effect science tells that the positive effects of prayers on physical and mental wellbeing can and do shape personalities and behaviour that lead to less acts of violence both at the individual and societal levels,” it stressed.

Meanwhile, the release informed that a region-wide candlelight vigil, held at Anna Catherina on September 16, rounded off the ‘Voices against Violence’ national candlelight vigil held to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, which was observed on September 10 this year.

The vigil, which was organised by the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex in collaboration with ‘The Caribbean Voice,’ was the last of the countrywide vigils organised by almost 40 different NGOs and other interest groups. It was publicly endorsed by the Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan and supported by a number of businesses, local government bodies and political groups. The Anna Catherina vigil was addressed by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.

 

Voices Against Violence Month of Prayer - October

Georgetown, Guyana, October 1, 2016: A region wide candlelight vigil held at Anna Catherina on September 16th, rounded off the Voices Against Violence National Candlelight Vigil held to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, which was September 10th this year. Organized by the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex in collaboration with The Caribbean Voice, the Lenora vigil, addressed by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, was the last in over 300 vigils countrywide, organized by almost 40 different NGOs, faith based and community based organizations and other interests groups. The vigil campaign was publicly endorsed by Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan and supported by a number of business organizations, local government bodies and political groups.

Voices Against Violence was launched as an anti-violence initiative to build community togetherness, enable communities to mobilize for social action, foster nationwide collaborative efforts to tackle violence in all its forms and develop local leadership that will continue to organize efforts of this nature. The success of the candlelight vigil led to a decision to organize monthly activities under the Voices Against Violence theme and thus October has been earmarked a month of prayer with October 30th designated National Day of Prayer.

The organizations spearheading this month of prayer request all Guyanese households to pray for peace and non-violence throughout the month and to participate in any and all gathering where prayers are held, Guyanese are also requested to organize prayer sessions nationwide on October 3oth – mandirs, mosques, churches, satsangs, prayer meetings and any sort of gathering where prayers can take center stage, Praying collectively as communities and group is the focus on this day but those who cannot do so can still pray as families or even as individuals.

Why prayers? Well when people are overwhelmed by major challenges lives there is a tendency to seek out someone or something we believe has greater resources than we do to help us in, and through, those crises and God is often the number one resource in this respect. Besides there is a large body of compelling, empirical and authentic research which speaks very highly of the significant role spirituality plays in the physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing of humanity. In the US National Library of Medicine, a Journal dated October 2001 on the Role Of Spirituality In Health Care, Dr Christiana M. Puchalski, Professor of Medicine and Health Science at George Washington School of Medicine and Director of Spirituality and Health found that: “Those who are spiritual tend to have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life.”  And the University of Maryland Medical Centre in 2015 stated: “Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behaviour, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation.” In fact, Journalist Eric Nelson of Communities Digital News in March 2014 in his article on Spirituality and Health Care said: “With more than 75 per cent of all medical schools in the US having integrated spirituality into their training programmes – up from just three schools 20 years ago – it’s safe to say that this once marginalised subject has made it into the mainstream of modern medicine.”

Recent research indicates that prayer fosters self-control. Research participants who said a prayer prior to a mentally exhausting task were better able to exercise self-control following that task. In addition, other studies demonstrate the prayer reduces alcohol consumption, which may reflect the exercise of self-control. Also, researchers found that having people pray for those in need reduced the amount of aggression they expressed following an anger inducing experience. In other words, prayer helps you not lose your cool.

Prayer increases trust. Recent studies found that having people pray together with a close friend increased feelings of unity and trust. This finding is interesting because it suggests that praying with others can be an experience that brings people closer together. Social prayer may thus help build close relationships, enhance community togetherness and act as a brake against various forms of violence.

Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress. Researchers found that people who prayed for others were less vulnerable to the negative physical health effects associated with financial stress. Also, it was the focus on others that seemed to be contributing to the stress-buffering effects of prayer. Praying for material gain did not counter the effects of stress. So thinking about the welfare of others may be a crucial component of receiving personal benefits from prayer.

Furthermore, regular prayer and meditation has been shown in numerous scientific studies to be an important factor in living longer and staying healthy. The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of scores of double-blind studies over the past four decades. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/ body medicine discovered what he calls “the relaxation response,” which occurs during periods of prayer and meditation. At such times, the body’s metabolism decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and our breath becomes calmer and more regular. This physiological state is correlated with slower brain waves, and feelings of control, tranquil alertness and peace of mind.

This is significant because Benson estimates that over half of all doctor visits in the U.S. today are prompted by illnesses, like depression, high blood pressure, ulcers and migraine headaches, that are caused at least in part by elevated levels of stress and anxiety. And high levels of stress can and do catalyze acts of violence.

Prayer is also the most widespread alternative therapy in the world today. Over 85 percent of people confronting a major illness pray, according to a University of Rochester study. That is far higher than taking herbs or pursuing other nontraditional healing modalities. And increasingly the evidence is that prayer works. Prayer then can reduce suicide ideation and lead to less suicides.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of Tibetan Buddhists in meditation and Franciscan nuns in prayer which showed comparable decreased activity in the parts of the brain that are associated with sense of self and spatial orientation in both groups. He also found that prayer and meditation increase levels of dopamine, which is associated with states of wellbeing and joy. Such states certainly influences actions in a positive manner and thus can reduce acts of violence.

In one National Institutes of Health funded study, individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer practice. Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong religious beliefs who underwent elective heart surgery were three times more likely to recover than those who were less religious. A 2011 study of inner city youth with asthma by researchers at the University of Cincinnati indicates that those who practiced prayer and meditation experienced fewer and less severe symptoms than those who had not. Other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses. Furthermore, a recent survey reported in the Journal of Gerontology of 4,000 senior citizens in Durham, NC, found that people who prayed or meditated coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not.

But the question remains: By what physiological mechanisms does prayer impact our health? Herbert Benson’s most recent research suggests that long-term daily spiritual practices help to deactivate genes that trigger inflammation and prompt cell death. That the mind can effect the expression of our genes is exciting evidence for how prayer may influence the functioning of the body at the most fundamental level. In effect science tells that people who pray and meditate trend to be statistically more healthy and live longer than those who do not. And the positive effects on physical and mental well being can and do trigger less acts of violence both at the individual and societal levels.

In effect it is felt that, beset by violence as Guyana is no one can deny that that challenges abound in the body social with dire effects on the national psyche.  Consequently, given the body of available evidence, it is felt that, at best, a month of prayers nation wide could very well impact the ongoing violence in a manner desired by all. At worst there can be no harm in all Guyanese praying together with hope that violence can be significantly reduces and peace given a greater chance.

 

 

Nationwide survey on mental health to be launched

INews, Guyana, September 13, 2016: A nationwide survey on mental health will soon be launched, as efforts intensify to help persons with mental health disorders and to prevent the illness from further progressing.

Given the fact that mental health illnesses in Guyana are now reaching great heights, non-governmental organisation (NGO), The Caribbean Voice (TCV) decided it was time to take the bull by the horns and take the lead.

TCV Managing Director Bibi Ahmad was quoted in today’s Guyana Times  as saying the data gathered from the survey will be used to aid and guide the organisation in helping vulnerable groups in order to monitor, control and prevent mental disorders.

“There is a dire need for more focus on mental health in Guyana, particularly when it comes to suicide prevention. We need to address these issues from the core,” she stated.

Surveys are costly to conduct and require significant amount of work, which is one of the main reasons why statistical data on a number of pertinent issues in Guyana has been lacking.

Ahmad further explained that the organisation was hoping that by now, the Government would have published current data on mental health illness and related issues in Guyana.

She maintained that having more available data on the state of mental health in Guyana will aid significantly in developing strategies to reduce the suicide rate in the country.

Though the survey will be spearheaded by TCV, the organisation is extending an invitation to other NGOs, the civil society, the Private Sector and to the Government to join them in this effort. TCV is still in the planning stages of this initiative, but it is hoping to launch the survey before the new year.

Relevant studies in the Americas indicate there is likely a prevalence of 10 to 15 per cent of the population with a mental disorder at any one time, with three to five per cent of the population having a severe chronic mental disorder. This is according to a World Health Organisation – Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS) on the mental health system in Guyana.

The 2008 report said, given a population estimate of 750,000, this would predict that 75,000 to 112,500 Guyanese suffer from mental disorders and require some level of mental health care services. Of these, approximately 22,500 to 37,500 would be expected to suffer from severe mental illnesses.

These projections do not include the number of patients with epilepsy and mental retardation, which are not surveyed in typical psychiatric epidemiologic studies, but are included in the population serviced by mental health care services in Guyana. The report said that the mental health system in Guyana is fragmented, poorly resourced, and not integrated into the general healthcare system.

It noted that although care of the mentally ill is provided for under the legislative framework of the Mental Health Ordinance of 1930, this is antiquated and fails to make provisions for the protection of the rights of people with mental disorders.

Senior Psychiatrist of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr Bhiro Harry, recently announced that the legislation is being revised and in its draft version; patients have been given much more rights than before. Last year, the Public Health Ministry launched Guyana’s National Mental Health Strategy 2015-2020, which outlines a coherent strategic framework for guiding the development of new plans, while bringing alignment and synergy to the Ministry’s national and international activities over the next five years. In addition, it will serve to coordinate development and technical assistance and other partnerships in health.

Among the programmes and services which are earmarked for implementation are: the National Suicide Prevention Programme; the Integration of Mental Health into Primary Care, Drug and Alcohol Prevention Programme; Psycho Geriatric Clinic; extend and enhance satellite clinics to communities (Diamond, Leonora, Mahaicony, Enmore and other communities with such needs).

Stakeholders have also urged that the Ministry take into consideration the stigma, social exclusion and discrimination that occur around people with mental disorders which compound the situation. Reports indicate that persons with mental disorders are reported to suffer discrimination in their communities, the workplace, educational institutions and the healthcare system.

According to the Guyana Times report, this was glaringly evident in the case of the young lady on the Essequibo Coast who was inhumanely locked away owing to mental illness.

 

Mindfulness can help mental wellbeing

Stabroek News, Guyana, September 12, 2016: The Caribbean Voice (TCV) has long advocated a package of measures and interventions in Guyana to help people to improve personal wellbeing. Until now conversations around mental health have tended to focus on depression but a University of Cambridge report published in the medical journal, Brain and Behaviour, suggested anxiety could be a much bigger problem. People with anxiety tend to be hyper-vigilant to negativity and worry excessively about the future, whereas those with depression tend to dwell on bad things about themselves. If cognitive behaviour therapy is not for you or you can’t afford it why not try Mindfulness?

TCV understands that Mindfulness isn’t the answer to everything, and it’s important that our enthusiasm doesn’t run ahead of the evidence. It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”.

Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and a wellbeing expert, says: “Feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it’s far from the whole”.  She added, “Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing,” as are self-esteem and self-confidence, a feeling that you can do the things you want to do, and good relationships, “which bring joy to you and those around you.”

Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual. It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.

In addition to our self-esteem workshops, TCV proposes that Mindfulness training be promoted across the country as evidence shows it’s good for mental wellbeing. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better.

Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and Mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’ Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better. Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past. TCV believes Mindfulness can be applied in the context of Guyana using a Train the Trainer approach.

“No-one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness. “Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk,” says Professor Williams. “All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage in day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”

It can be helpful to pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

“Some people find it very difficult to practise mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in,” says Professor Williams. “It might be useful to remember that Mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events. “Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking.” To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam”. Or, “This is anxiety”.

You can practise Mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been ‘trapped’ in reliving past problems or ‘pre-living’ future worries. As well as practising Mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal Mindfulness practice. Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander.

Five things that, according to research, can really help to boost our mental wellbeing:

Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.

Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling, play a game, draw, sing… find any activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.

Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, figure out how to fix your bike or repair broken furniture or torn clothing?

Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you, a kind word, helping an elderly person cross the road, carrying bags for a pregnant woman or stopping to chat with a lonely person. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, school or hospital can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.

Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.

One theory for the rise in anxiety is that whilst we are digitally connected we are less connected to each other than people used to be a couple of decades ago. Daily life is also less communal and collaborative as more and more people are becoming individualistic particularly when compared with life in the past. And yet, we all want to be accepted and liked. Being excluded from a group to which we want to belong is a real terror for many people today. Whether the result of fear of missing out or fear of being left out, anxiety can be seriously life-limiting and that’s no fun at all.

 

Voices Against Violence: National Candlelight Vigil

Stabroek News, Guyana, August 29, 2016: Around 8:30 am on the morning of  Tuesday August 23, we received a call from a Georgia based, former Guyanese educator.  After expressing support for a letter of ours published that same day by Stabroek News  calling on the Ministry of Education to organize a nationwide campaign in schools with workshops on self-esteem, he expressed outrage that more than a year after he had presented a self-esteem test to education officials in Guyana to administer to students nationwide, nothing had been done. He also expressed anger that such simple things seem so difficult for the government and asked where was the change for which he had fought and supported the government at the last elections. This kind of interaction has become commonplace for us, as many Guyanese want to see the government implement simple, inexpensive measures to help citizens, especially the young, to cope with challenges so they do not turn to violence including suicide.

20130930diaspora“Voices Against Violence” is an attempt to get communities across Guyana involved in anti-violence activism, while fostering the concept of communal action for community wellbeing. This candlelight vigil, set for World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2016, under the theme, ‘Connect… Communicate…Care’, is an initiative that is inexpensive and easy to organize – each participant simply needs a candle or can even use a cell phone – and that brings communities together. Thus vigils can be organized by religious institutions, local businesses, sports and youth clubs, political party groups…just about any entity or set of individuals including schools. Where possible two or more groups can collaborate.

For the purposes of this vigil all of the following are considered acts of violence either against self or others: trafficking, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and child abuse, rape, incest, teenage pregnancy, road carnage, dysfunctional relationships, neglect of the elderly, abuse of the mentally and physically challenged. Besides, relationship violence and its dysfunctional socialization can and do shape personalities that easily gravitate towards crime and attendant violence.

At the time of writing this article, thirty organizations, a number of individual activists, some local government bodies and business entities had banded together to organize ‘Voices Against Violence” and thirty two vigils had already been confirmed from Corriverton to Mabaruma and Lethem.

In Guyana, many do not think of suicide, alcoholism, drugs use and teenage pregnancy as violence and do not consider child abuse, domestic violence, rape, trafficking, road accidents as serious issues of violence. But violence needs to be seen and dealt with holistically because various types of violence are inextricably connected to each other. For example, alcoholism often leads to domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. And domestic violence and child abuse often create adults who sometimes graduate to criminal violence. In fact even violence against animals and the environment sometimes reflect personalities who become prone to other types of violence as seen below.

Abuse: Women are being shot, hacked, beheaded, stabbed, burnt, strangled, drowned…  Although reliable statistics are not available, it is accepted that Guyanese women continue to be subject to widespread violence that prevents them from enjoying other constitutionally-ensured rights. Guyana’s Second Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women  (CEDAW) concludes that “violence against women is widespread in Guyana”. And according to a Stabroek News article a few years ago, domestic violence, and particularly the abuse of women by their male partners, is among the most common and dangerous forms of gender-based violence. Women become targets by virtue of their relationship to the male abuser and the violence is inflicted on them usually, but not exclusively, within the home. Media reports also place the domestic violence rate as anywhere between 50% and 66% but some activists argue that it could even be higher and that a significant percentage of abuse never gets reported. With respect to child abuse, The United States (US) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 indicates that in Guyana the “vast majority” of cases of child rape and abuse are not reported.

All of this stacks up to gender inequity premised on gender-based violence and abuse, in which children also often end up being victimized. That corporal punishment in and out of schools is still the practice in Guyana, and considered a necessity in the socialization process, compound the problem. The reality also is that in Guyana, domestic violence continues to be seen as a personal, private or a family matter. Its purpose and consequences are often hidden, and domestic violence is frequently portrayed as justified punishment or discipline in what is still a male-centric society and one in which children are still to be seen but not heard.

Tragically too, both spousal abuse and child abuse cut across ethnicity, status, social standing and other ‘divides’ which suggest that such acts are somewhat normative and many, including some victims, do not see anything wrong with abusive behaviour, often until it is too late.

Alcoholism: On average, Guyanese consumed more than eight liters of pure alcohol in 2010 compared to the global figure of 6.2 liters, the World Health Organization said in a 2015 report.  That is, alcohol consumption in Guyana in 2010 was equal to 8.1 liters of pure alcohol consumed per person aged 15 years or older.  About 15.2% of male drinkers (10 per cent of the population aged 15+) engaged in heavy, episodic drinking, that is, consumed at least 60 grams of pure alcohol at least once per month. Also, 8.6% of males and 5.9% of all Guyanese aged 15 and older are classified as having alcohol use disorder, with 3.9% and 1.9% respectively classified as alcoholics.

Drugs: There are no reliable statistics on the amount of persons engaging in the use of illegal drugs or those described as addicts. However, a Behavioural Surveillance Survey, done by the government in 2003 found that 11% of out-of-school youth use drugs, as do 8% of in-school youth. Other users included 17% of GUYSUCO employees, 45% of female sex workers, 74% of male sex workers and 12% of members of the armed forces. Since then there has been a steady increase in the number of persons observed on the streets coupled with those who engage in the use of illegal drugs in a social environment. In fact, empirical and anecdotal evidence gathered by The Caribbean Voice indicate that in almost every community there are well known drug pushers, and that every community has drug addicts who engage in odds and ends work to support their habits.

The Guyana Human Development Report (1996) points out that “there appears to be an association between drug use and mental illness and the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus,” that prostitution is linked to drug use and that many of the street children are into drug use.

Sexual Violence: Sexual violence and crimes against women in Guyana is escalating: a rise of one-third in rape reports (117 to 154) occurred between 2000-2004 and a 16-fold rise in statutory rapes (2 to 34). The rape rate in 2010 was 15.5 per 100,000 which would translate into a 124 rapes for that year – an almost four-fold increase over 2004 figures. Also, from January to September 2014 there were more than 140 cases of rape reported, while from January to July 2013, there were 179 reported cases. And the Guyana Police Force recorded a 68 percent increase in rape (243 reported cases) during the period January 1 to July 31, 2015 with most of the offences being perpetuated against underage girls.

Also, Guyana has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the Caribbean with an estimated 97 teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 out of 1000 becoming pregnant each year. Of the more than 60% of women involved in a relationship or union, 12.7 percent experienced sexual violence (media reports, year not given).

A 2007 report by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) analyzed sexual crimes between 2000 and 2004 and found that 92 per cent of all rape victims were females, 43 per cent were in the 12 to 15 age group, and 26 per cent were in the one to 12 age groups. It also found that Amerindian girls between 12 to 16 years were the most vulnerable group nationally. While these figures are alarming, most rape cases go unreported because of the stigma and discrimination attached; in Guyana rape is still considered taboo, too shameful to be made publicly known and a significant percentage of rape is incestuous. Besides, the 2007 GHRA report found that more than two-thirds of sexual assault crimes occurred in the homes of the victims while three out of four perpetrators were known to victims and one in every five perpetrators were related to their victims. And, fathers, stepfathers and father-figures are responsible for over 67% of family-related sexual violence. Use of condoms was reported in only 3% of cases.

Now, as we focus on ‘Voices Against Violence” we appeal to local and community leaders, businesspersons and others as well as community organizations, including religious institutions and sports club, to please help bring off this activity by ensuring that a vigil is organized in every community, collaboratively where possible. If anyone can spearhead a vigil, or knows of individuals or entities, which can organize vigils please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637, Pandit Deodat at 627-4432 or Keshni Rooplall 697-9968, Dolly Singh 266 5617. Email caribvoice@aol.com, bibiahamad1@hotmail.com, keshni.rooplall@yahoo.com, deodatpersaud25@yahoo.com.

Meanwhile, given the level of support for “Voices Against Violence,” we sincerely hope that as we move forward, the government will buy into the work  of NGOs, faith-based and community-based organisaions, while simultaneously beginning to take action to expand and build on the work being done. And, we hope that out of this experience, communities would begin to take ownership for their overall safety and that the environment for NGOs to collaborate with community leaders and organizations to hold community empowerment sessions and help implement anti-violence training is being created. We also hope to build on the vigil as we explore the use of religion and prayers (National Month of Prayer), culture (art, music, drama), outdoor signage, the media, first responders and change agents in every community, to foster multi-sectoral collaboration and lobby the government to do its part.

(http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/features/in-the-diaspora/08/29/voices-violence-national-candlelight-vigil/)

 

Suicide and the young

Guyana Chronicle, August 26, 2016: BY NOW, the general consensus globally is that suicide prevention is a holistic endeavour, and any missing link in the chain would certainly significantly impede efforts to save lives. Within this context, the work done in schools and among the 15-25 age group must be supplemented, so that the endeavours reach every school — at least high schools and youth entities.Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to follow the lead of the New Jersey Arya Samaj Mandir (NJASM) and organize a nationwide campaign to reach remaining schools with the workshop on self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness; and dealing with stressors.

Feedback from workshops held by NJASM and TCV (in collaboration with our partners, especially GIVE Foundation), has been disturbing, as, across the board, we have learnt that young people suffer from sexual abuse and, to a lesser extent, physical abuse; and as well, many have suffered/suffer from depression, while some have even been suicidal.

Also, drugs and alcohol are creeping into the school system. No wonder the highest suicide rate is in the 15 to 25 age group.

This trend makes it urgently critical for guidance counsellors to be posted to schools as soon as possible. So, once again, we call on the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, to fulfill his promise made months ago to effect this measure.

Also, we strongly suggest that the mentoring programme launched by students of Queen’s College — whereby senior students take junior students under their wings and mentor them — be implemented in all high schools.

Furthermore, we note that North Ruimveldt Secondary has taken the lead in suicide prevention awareness activities, and we strongly urge other high schools to follow suit.

Finally, we urge mass-based and community-based organizations, especially churches/mosques/mandirs, trade unions, political parties and Parent-Teachers Associations to organize forums on empathetic communication, self-empowerment, dealing with stress, and developing coping skills. The fact is that these youngsters spend more time at home than at school, so it is critical to ensure that the home environment is also addressed so that school supports home, and vice versa.

In fact, over the last year or so, a number of calls have been made for parenting sessions to be held to help tackle suicide; and those calls have been repeated at the various community outreaches held by various stakeholders at which The Caribbean Voice has participated. This is an absolute necessity, not only because suicide affects families, but also because families are in the best position to identify warning signs and seek help for at-risk members. But it is also necessary because lack of empathetic communication, especially as it relates to parents and teenagers, is quite clearly a huge factor in suicide.

Contrary to what some have expressed, the issue is not that parents do not love their children; but, rather, that parents do not have the requisite skills to deal with family conflicts and problems in general. In fact, far too many parents fall back on the socialization process that informed their childhood and growing up years, as well as prevailing misinformation and myths. Besides, lack of parenting skills also impact violence, especially among the youth, as well as ethics and morality.

Given this reality, we urge parents to always be alert to what’s happening in the lives of their teenagers, and especially to be aware of any problems teenagers face. Parents should always find out how their teenagers are doing, and if anything’s bothering them. And in addressing any problems, parents must choose their words very carefully, since words can, and often do, take on lives of their own.

Regardless of what the issues are, parents must let their teenagers know that they are loved, and that they can always depend on the help and support of their parents. The lives of children are more important than anything else; and whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness. Thus parents must not use language that would alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste, or make them feel alone and lonely.

And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today.

Most importantly, parents need to understand any pain and agony their children suffer, and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help, things will get better. As youth leader in the Caribbean Voice, Rayon Mantoos, puts it, parents have to work towards the following: Cutting down — if not eliminating – nagging and lecturing, which generally cause children to stop listening to what is being said and become resentful as well. Instead, keep conversations brief; don’t repeat things too often; and, if necessary, develop a set of consequences with children so they take ownership for their behaviours and actions and embrace the consequences. Parents should also desist from interrupting when their children are expressing themselves, so that children feel that what they have to say is given value; Do not be directly critical of children. If necessary, enter into a discussion about behaviour and/or actions, and work with children to understand where they may have gone wrong and what would be better options. Absolutely do not keep dwelling on the past, as children need to know that they can start over with a clean slate. If a pattern develops, then maybe have a supportive and caring family intervention. Desist from trying to control children through guilt, because this is a sure way to negatively affect relationships and children’s self-esteem as well. Do not use sarcasm, as this can have negative effects on children in many ways. Work with children to help them solve their problems, instead of imposing solutions, as this can lead to resentment. Instead, offer guidance and scope for them to find solutions, as children need to learn by themselves and know that they are capable and trusted.

Never put down children, even as a joke. This can lead to children feeling rejected, unloved and inadequate. Never use threats, as these can lead to children feeling powerless and resentful. With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved, parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that we all make mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact, even as adults, we still continue to make mistakes. So when our teens make mistakes, we must understand that it is not the end of the world, or even the end of life. Life goes on and, as parents, we must first help our teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made, and then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And when necessary, we must reach for help if we feel that we are not fully capable of providing the help needed by our teenagers.

While the focus here is on parents/children relationships, it must be noted that empathetic communication is also an important tool in all relationships, and can be a critical difference in adult relationships. Thus the same strategies mentioned above can be adapted to suit these adult/adult relationships as well.

The fact is that empathetic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving, and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventually violence.

The bottom line is that the time and efforts invested in these measures will save lives, lives that may very well be those of our loved ones. So we all need to do what’s necessary and make suicide and violence prevention everybody’s business. For more information and every sort of help, including finding trainers, dealing with relationships, finding counsellors or dealing with abuse, please touch base with the Ministry of Health or Social Protection, regional health authorities, health institutions, regional social workers, or The Caribbean Voice.

 

Education ministry should organize nationwide

campaign in schools with workshops on self esteem

Stabroek News, Guyana, August 23, 2016: The general consensus globally is that suicide prevention is a holistic endeavour and that any missing link in the chain will certainly significantly impede efforts to save lives. Within this context the work done in schools and among the 15-25 age group, must be supplemented so that the endeavours reach every school, at least high schools and youth entities.

Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) urges the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to follow the lead of NJASM and organize a nationwide campaign to reach remaining schools with the workshop on self esteem, self acceptance, self forgiveness and dealing with stressors. Feedback from workshops held by NJASM and TCV (in collaboration with our partners, especially GIVE Foundation), have been offered disturbing feedback, as across the board we have learnt that young people suffer from sexual abuse and to a lesser extent physical abuse and, as well, many have suffered/suffer from depression while some have even been suicidal. Also, drugs and alcohol are creeping into the school system. No wonder the 15 to 25 age group displays the highest suicide rate. This trend makes it critical for guidance counsellors to be posted to schools as soon as possible. So once again we call on the Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, to fulfil his promise months ago to effect this measure.

Also we strongly suggest that the mentoring programme launched by students of Queen’s College, whereby senior students take junior students under their wings and mentor them, be implemented in all high schools. Furthermore, we note also that North Ruimveldt Secondary has taken the lead in suicide prevention awareness activities and we strongly urge other high schools to follow suit. Finally, we urge mass based and community based organizations, especially churches/mosques/mandirs, trade unions, political parties and Parent-Teacher Associations to organize forums on empathetic communication, self empowerment, dealing with stress and developing coping skills. The fact is that these youngsters spend more time at home than at school so it is critical to ensure that the home environment is also addressed so that school supports home and vice versa.

In fact, a number of calls for parenting sessions to help tackle suicide have been made over the last year or so and have been repeated at the various community outreaches held by various stakeholders, in which The Caribbean Voice has participated.  This is an absolute necessity, not only because suicide affects families, but also because families are in the best position to identify warning signs and seek help for at risk members. But it is also necessary because lack of empathetic communication, especially as it relates to parents and teenagers, is quite clearly a huge factor in suicide. Contrary to what some have expressed, the issue is not that parents do not love their children, but rather that parents do not have the requisite skills to deal with family conflicts and problems in general. In fact, far too many parents fall back on the socialization process that informed their childhood and growing up years, as well as prevailing misinformation and myths. Besides, lack of parenting skills also impacts violence, especially among the youth, as well as ethics and morality.

Given this reality, we urge parents to always be alert to what’s happening in the lives of their teenagers and especially to be aware of any problems the teenagers face. Parents should always find out how their teenagers are doing and if anything’s bothering them. And in addressing any problems parents must choose their words very carefully since words can and often do take on lives of their own. Regardless of what the issues are parents must let their teenagers know that they are loved and that they can always depend on the help and support of their parents.

The lives of children are more important than anything else, and whatever the issue, it must be dealt with in an atmosphere of care, concern, understanding and forgiveness.

Thus parents must not use language that would alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste or make them feel alone and lonely. And while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what exists today. Most importantly, parents need to understand any pain and agony their children suffer and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help things will get better.  As a youth leader in the The Caribbean Voice, Rayon Mantoos, puts it, parents have to work towards the following:

*Cutting down, if not eliminating nagging and lecturing which generally cause children to stop listening to what is being said and to become resentful as well. Instead keep conversations brief, don’t repeat things too often and if necessary, develop a set of consequences with children so they take ownership for their behaviour and actions and embrace the consequences;

*Desisting from interrupting when their children are expressing themselves so that children feel that what they have to say is given value;

*Not being directly critical of children. If necessary enter into a discussion about behaviour and/or actions and work with children to understand where they may have been wrong and what would be better options;

*Absolutely do not keep dwelling on the past, as children need to know that they can start over with a clean slate. If a pattern develops then maybe have a supportive and caring family intervention;

*Desisting from trying to control children through guilt because this is a sure way to negatively affect relationships and children’s self esteem as well;

*Not using sarcasm as this can have negative effects on children in many ways;

*Working with children to help them solve their problems, instead of imposing solutions, as this can lead to resentment. Instead offer guidance and scope for them to find solutions as children need to learn by themselves and know that they are capable and trusted;

*Never putting down children, even as a joke. This can lead to children feeling rejected, unloved and inadequate.

*Never using threats as these can lead to children feeling powerless and resentful.

With respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that we all make mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact even as adults we still continue to make mistakes. So when our teens make mistakes we must understand that it’s not the end of the world or even the end of life. Life goes on and as parents, we must first help our teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made and then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life. And, when necessary, we must reach for help if we feel that we are not fully capable of providing the help needed by our teenagers.

While the focus here is on parents/children relationships, it must be noted that empathetic communication is also an important tool in all relationships and can make a critical difference in adult relationships. Thus the same strategies mentioned above can be adapted to suit these adult/adult relationships as well. The fact is that empathetic communication is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventually violence.

The bottom line is that the time and effort invested in these measures will save lives, lives that may very well be those of our loved ones. So we all need to do what’s necessary and make suicide and violence prevention everybody’s business. For more information and every sort of help, including finding trainers, dealing with relationships, finding counsellors or dealing with abuse, please touch base with the Ministry of Health or Social Protection, regional health authorities, health institutions, regional social workers, or The Caribbean Voice. The Caribbean Voice can be reached at bibiahamed1@hotmail.com, caribvoice@aol. com, deodatpersaud25@yahoo.com, Keshni.rooplall@yahoo.com or caribbeanvoice101@gmail.com.  Also call 621-6111, 223-2637, 627-4423.

(http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/opinion/letters/08/23/education-ministry-organize-nationwide-campaign-schools-workshops-self-esteem/)

 

Please take politics of out of suicide prevention

New York, August 7th, 2016: THE Caribbean Voice is deeply saddened by the fact that political posturing has trumped the need to save lives as “a parliamentary motion expressing concern for Guyana’s alarming suicide rate, quickly descended into a politicised debate marked by blame-throwing” (as one local media house described it). Indeed, a motion calling for urgent action to save lives was transformed into an argument as to who’s stealing whose work, as our smart politicians sought to score political points rather than come together to arrest the suicide epidemic that is stalking the land.

The fact of the matter is that the PPP, while in government, aborted the one mechanism that was beginning to make a difference, the Gatekeepers Programme. And while the Pesticide Board had agreed to roll out an adaptation of the Shri Lankan Hazard Reduction Model to tackle pesticide suicide, that went nowhere after the change of Government last May.

Also, we all know that the current government just completed one year in office but at the beginning of that year, the promises rained down while the only mechanism put in place so far is the suicide hotline that has neither been widely publicized nor is used to any significant extent by the population. We are still waiting for the roll-out of counsellors in schools, which, according to Education Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, was set to start earlier this year, in February. Ditto for the other measures talked about – the Gatekeepers’ Programme, a mechanism to address pesticide suicide, implementation of the Mental Health Plan and so on.

So it befuddles the mind that our politicians are quarrelling about who’s stealing whose thunder, while suicide continues to be a ‘norm’ with at least 15 so far for August, of which at least eight were not reported in the media! Perhaps more befuddling however, is this constant urge to re-invent the wheel when there are already tried and tested strategies, measures and best practices that can be adapted to suit the Guyana social landscape. This constant re-inventing, which always seems to be arrested mid-stream, eats up financial and other resources, time and efforts that can significantly help in tackling the range of mental health and social issues that stalk the land.

Furthermore, given that the call for collaboration echoed by both sides of the house, one would have thought that our political leaders would put heads together and come up with a plan whose implementation would reflect the urgency of necessary action. One option would have been to send the bill to committee to thrash out something acceptable at a bipartisan level that would not water down the necessary mechanisms for suicide prevention. Another suggestion would be to set up a broad-based committee that includes the government, opposition, civil society and NGO stakeholders to rework the motion and have it jointly sponsored by a member of the gov’t and a member of the opposition.

Meanwhile, the process of collaboration can start immediately with the only other thing both sides agreed on – decriminalizing attempted suicide. We call upon the relevant ministry to draft the necessary legislation and lay it in parliament ASAP and we request the opposition to give full support, so that this archaic law can be taken off the books.

Given the spate of murder/suicide/attempted suicide and of youth suicide and attempted suicide over the past few months, addressing violence in general and suicide and abuse in particular, are becoming increasingly urgent imperatives. Thus we sincerely hope that the government, especially the relevant ministries, will immediately begin to transform rhetoric into action and roll out the various plans and measures that have been propagated over the last year or so. And we also hope that efforts would seriously be made to include the NGOs that are actually bending their backs to make a difference, so that they can be able to extend and expand their work, especially in the rural areas and countryside, where the need is greatest. To protest that resources are not available to do what needs to be done would be so facetious, given the almost one billion dollars spent on a park used for the Jubilee celebration and the additional billions spent on the many-faceted, lavish manifestations of this celebration. Surely, our government cannot argue that partying is more critical than saving lives and empowering people.

On another note, we were so happy to notice that self-esteem was on the menu for a training programme for young ladies held recently. While the news article did not mention it, we also hope coping skills was included. However, we want to point out — as we have done before — that self-esteem and coping skills must be included in all training programmes, anywhere, especially for the young, since it is evident that lack of these two skill sets significantly contribute to both suicide and abuse. We also re-emphasize that any and all such training programmes must not be one-off, but should be taken countrywide, to have a sustained, national effect.

And speaking of collaboration, The Caribbean Voice and the 25-plus NGO partners, welcome the endorsement of Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan for “Voices Against Violence National Candlelight Vigil” set for World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10. We hope that other ministries and even President Granger will find it possible to also endorse this vigil, which aims to bring communities together to harness efforts for social action, and to urge all communities to get involved. To date, over 25 vigils have been confirmed in almost all the regions, and we expect this figure to more than double by the time September 10 comes around.

Meanwhile, we also urge communities and all organizations to band together and plan vigils in communities across Guyana. For further information, clarification, assistance and to have vigils mapped and publicized, please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637, Pandit Deodat at 627-4432, Keshni Rooplall at 697-9968, Nazim S Hussain at 644-1152, Dolly Singh at 266-5617. Send email to bibiahamad1@hotmail.com, keshni.rooplall@yahoo.com, deodatpersaud25@yahoo.com or caribvoice@aol.com.

 

Mental Health Unhealthiness

Georgetown, Guyana, August 5, 2016: He posted a heart wrenching appeal, some time after midnight, a few days on the face book page of The Caribbean Voice (www.caribvoice.org), asking for help because he was having familiar feelings of the kind that had driven him to attempt suicide once before. Immediately, some members of the group sprang into action. As we engaged him in chat, someone from the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health joined in and quickly phone-messaged a counselor.  It took a while, but eventually the doctor called and set up an appointment for him at the Georgetown Public Hospital, at eight am. We continued to engage him until he went to bed sometime after two that same morning, promising that he would do nothing foolish, but instead would keep the appointment the following day.

As daylight chased away darkness, he informed us that he was keeping his appointment, thankful that he was getting professional help.  But his arrival at the hospital created confusion and frustration as no one could direct him to the doctor he was seeking. Frustration was turning to resignation as he texted that he was leaving and going to the seawall to end it all. As one member of The Caribbean Voice kept him engaged, the same personnel from the Mental Health Unit, who had put him in connection with the doctor, hurried to the hospital, some two hours plus after the 19 year had arrived. Yet it took that person almost another hour before she could connect him with the help he needed.

The young man was given attention but refused to stay over for observation, as he was under the popular misconception that only ‘mad’ people are held back at the psych ward and he most definitely was not mad. And while he initially agreed to keep the subsequent appointment some three days later, he later changed his mind. So, The Caribbean Voice continues to engage him, as we usually do with regards to all our cases, hoping that we can still persuade him to take the additional counseling.

This experience begs the following questions:

1. Why was it impossible for hospital staff to direct the young man to psych ward? Surely this information should be available at reception desks and known by all staff?

2. Why was there no mental health professional to meet with the young man until close to 11 am even though he had an 8PM appointment? Surely the staff at the mental health unit knows that delays and consequent frustration can concretize the final act of suicide?

In any case the young man is in an upbeat mood, since he found a temporary job, as his lack of employment was a trigger for his suicidal mindset, especially since it clearly created tension between him and his parents with whom he lives, and for whom he feels responsible. And, having once before attempted suicide, suicide ideation came very easy to him. Frighteningly, however, is that youth unemployment is 40% according to the Caribbean Development Bank, a state of affairs that is fertile ground for youth suicide ideation and actual suicides, and may well already be impacting both, given that so many suicides go unreported. Thus our concern that government seems to be going back on its election campaign promise to provide jobs for the youth. While we applaud the efforts being undertaken thus far, especially by the police and the First Lady, we strongly urge that these be extended nationwide, be as inclusive as possible and be followed by job placements, perhaps in collaboration with the various business associations. We suggest too that all high schools implement summer, work study internships for students moving into fifth forms and perhaps extend this to weekends/evenings where possible during the fifth form years.  A job placement program is also needed for all tertiary level educational institutions.

Alarmingly too, the myth that dealing with counseling and the psych ward or the psychiatric institution means someone is ‘mad’, holds tremendous sway in Guyana and that may be why transparent and obvious warning signs are ignored by care givers and loved ones. Far too often, after a suicide, we hear or read that so and so had talked about wanting to take his or her life but those around him/her thought he/she was joking and/or did not take that person seriously. Thus TCV strongly urges the Ministry of Health to embark on a sustained education campaign to combat this myth. As well, we urge the Ministry of Health to make sure that mental health professionals are available 24/7 at public hospitals, especially where there are psych wards and that mechanisms, including signage providing directions, be put in place to make access to such wards easy and quick for anyone seeking help, given that delays and consequential frustration/anger can lead to loss of lives.

This particular case also brings to the fore the suicide hotline. Empirical and anecdotal evidence indicates that Guyanese are hardly utilizing the hotline and we do recall that an appeal last year for figures to be released was met with deafening silence in spite of claims of its success. The Caribbean Voice has been publicizing the hotline via our self-esteem pledge which has been distributed to schools and communities in many parts of Guyana. However, it is critical that the Ministries of Public Security and Health embark on an ongoing, national campaign to make the suicide hotline a household item and to encourage citizens to make use of it with the promise of absolute confidentiality every time. As well statistical and related evidence proving its extensive use and success ought to be made public, as this will bolster wide spread confidence in its effectiveness. After all, it would have been quicker for the young man to call the hotline and get help than to reach out to TCV via Face book.

On the issue of confidentiality, TCV has also found that too many Guyanese are still skeptical of counselors and counseling because of claims that confidentiality is not often kept. In fact, the grapevine revealed that a suicide prevention activist, who committed suicide last year, might have done so partly because the confidentiality she was promised was breached. That is why the promise of confidentiality with regards to the suicide hotline is so absolutely critical. And perhaps that is why, far too often, those seeking help emphatically refuse counseling in Guyana and/or by Guyanese, when we place that on the table for them.

Also, this case and many others that TCV has handled over the last two years, make it clear that mental healthcare has to be national in scope and easy of access. Thus TCV reiterates its call for mental health care to be integrated into the physical heath care system, per the recommendation of the World Health Organization, for nations like Guyana. And we urge that a look be taken at the Shri Lankan Model in this respect, as that nation has Very successfully implemented this integration.

For the record our interventions are pro bono and while we do have our own complement of counselors we also do sometimes refer cases to various counselors in Guyana with whom we have developed relationships, and who also offer their services free of charge to our referrals. Incidentally, not all of our cases are related to suicide. In fact we have handled domestic violence, sex abuse and rape, child abuse and alcoholism cases as well, and while most of our cases are from Guyana we have dealt with cases in a number of other countries as well, since people seek us out through our Internet and social media presence.

 

A wholisittic approach towards suicide prevention

Georgetown, Guyana, July 24, 2016: In response to our invitation to become part of the solution to social pathologies such as alcoholism, suicide, rape, drug use, child abuse, domestic violence and the like, Mr Nowrang Persaud stated, “While I unconditionally applaud all efforts to minimize the negative fallout from alcoholism, suicide, domestic and other forms of violence, I firmly believe that the chances of success in remedial or corrective actions are greater, if we work at the grass-roots level where we can more effectively ‒ as indeed I have been trying to do for the longest while ‒ help to minimize the incidence and the problems”.

The Caribbean Voice (TCV) could not agree more. In fact, TCV conducts a monthly outreach to various communities in Guyana (two have been done so far in July – St. Cuthbert’s Mission and Mora Point, Mahaicony) as well as monthly self-esteem workshops for youth and students.  TCV is also aware of the work done by the many NGOs on the ground, in communities, having brought over 70 of these NGOs together for the only ever National Stakeholders’ Conference on Suicide and Related Issues, last August at the Cara Lodge - one of our many, many partners.

Even though TCV is manned by unpaid volunteers, who also work 9 to 5 to put food on the table and take care of families, and even though our only funding come from our own pockets and the support of friends and well-wishers, our approach has been wholistic. Thus, in addition to the community outreaches and workshop, we are engaged in regular media advocacy to disseminate information to combat myths and misinformation on the one hand and bring awareness on the other. Additionally we, (along with others) are also engaged in ongoing lobbying that has seen the launch of the suicide hotline last year and a promise made by the Minister of Education to have counselors placed in schools. We continue to lobby for the latter as well as measures to tackle pesticide suicide (citing the Shri Lankan Model as an exemplar), integration of mental health care within the existing physical care system (as advocated by the World Health Organization) relaunch of the Gatekeepers’ Program (which would directly impact communities), giving more teeth to the Sexual Offences Act, sensitivity training for police and other government personnel, and so on. To this end we have also held meetings with many policy shapers and decision makers and are seeking to have further meetings. Also, currently we have two online petitions calling for the establishment of a registry of sex offenders and raising the age of consent to 18 years. We hope to present the signatures for both petitions to the President, some time next year.

It is within the wholistic context that the Voices Against Violence Candle Light Vigil on September 10 is located. At the minimum, the vigil will bring communities together to focus on anti-violence and hopefully lay the groundwork for these communities to continue to act together in combating all forms of violence, while agitating for resources and supports from various levels of government as well as facilitating community/NGO collaboration. Additionally, in collaboration with partners and other stakeholders, TCV engages in pro-bono counseling and counseling support, with respect to the range of issues – suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, alcoholism, drug use, incest.

Finally, considering that Mr. Persaud claims to be engaged in social activism at the grass roots level and given that we strongly believe in and foster the collaborative approach - conference last August, workshops and outreaches in collaboration with NGOs such as GIVE Foundation, Orchid Foundation, Save Abee Foundation, Monique’s Helping Hands, CADVA, NJASM Humanitarian Mission, Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation, Citizens Against Rape, and others, a dozen NGOs already partnering in the vigil with more to come on board, as well as a number of individual social activists - we again extend an invitation to Mr. Persaud, to become a partner in this effort as a first step to joining the collaborative and wholistic approach, which is not only highly cost effective but gets more done every time and with greater and more enduring impact. Given his expertise and experiences, Mr Persaud should be very much aware of the many advantages of a collaborative, concerted, wholistic approach to problem solving.

 

 

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