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Fighting Guyana’s Mental Health Crisis

Guyana's Mental Health Crisis
Guyana’s mental health crisis has plagued the nation for decades. In 2015 Guyana had a suicide rate of 44.2 per 100,000 people. This was far above the global average of 16 suicides per 100,000 people. This has been the case with Guyana for decades. A lack of mental health resources within the nation has perpetuated this cycle of ill mental health and suicide. Many have acknowledged that this dangerous phenomenon requires attention.

Mental Health and Suicide in Guyana

Guyana consistently ranks among the highest in the world for suicide rates. Suicide rates across the world have been decreasing but the Americas remains an anomaly in the trend. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Guyana has led the way when it comes to increasing suicide rates in the Americas. Guyana has the highest suicide rates in the Americas but this unfortunate status occurs among some groups within Guyana more often than others.

Guyana is an extremely ethnically and naturally diverse nation. The two largest ethnicities in Guyana are its Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese populations. About 40% of Guyana’s population is Indo-Guyanese and 29% is Afro-Guyanese. Other ethnicities include Chinese, Indigenous and mixed populations.

Despite Indo-Guyanese people making up less than half of Guyana’s population, they account for 80% of recorded suicides. The majority of those who commit suicide in the nation is between the ages of 15 to 34. Men are also four times more likely to commit suicide in Guyana than women. This means that young Indo-Guyanese men are more vulnerable to suicidality than other demographics in the nation.

Suicides in Guyana are also spatial uneven in their occurrence across the nation. About 70% of suicides in Guyana are in rural parts of the country. These are typically Extremely poor rural areas where low-income agricultural labor jobs are the predominant mode of employment for men. Women in these regions are typically stay-at-home mothers. Studies have begun to show that rural lifestyles have had a massive impact on suicidality in Guyana.

Identifying Root Causes

The conditions rural Indo-Guyanese residents have experienced have largely shaped Guyana’s mental health crisis. These rural regions are typically devoid of any mental health facilities or services. Many residents turn to substances such as alcohol to cope. Alcohol is comparatively easily available and thus a culture of drinking has developed in such regions. Some research has suggested that alcoholism is a leading factor in suicide.

Access to agricultural products in Guyana’s rural regions means that many locals use these products to poison themselves. Pesticide consumption is the most common method of suicide among Guyana’s rural residents. This evoked restrictions on the purchase of such pesticides. The effectiveness and feasibility of these restrictions have recently come into question.

Interventions and Outside Help

The severity of Guyana’s mental health crisis has created a sense of urgency. Many different entities have responded to this call to action. As of 2022, the Guyanese government has been discussing the prospects of decriminalizing suicide attempts. This may give suicidal individuals more confidence in seeking help.

De Montfort University has embarked on a research project to tackle Guyana’s mental health crisis. A team of researchers including Dr. Tania Hart are working with rural communities to increase mental health resilience. Participants in the community have received mental well-being resources and avenues through which to express mental discontent.

The U.S. has provided various forms of assistance to Guyana. Health is the one area that U.S. assistance under-serves. U.S. funding and intervention have funded initiatives to fight things such as HIV/AIDS and drug trafficking as well as youth engagement projects. The Americas Innovation Fund is one such initiative that has a particular focus on access to quality education. Given the success of previous U.S. initiatives in Guyana, there is great hope for the prospects of mental health funding.

A Brighter Future

Guyana’s mental health crisis is beginning to attract international collaboration. The Guyana Foundation has begun partnering with international organizations and NGOs. Those in the U.S. and Canada have been the focus of this outreach for support. Mental health facilities and suicide intervention programs are the main initiative recipients of funds. With the help of U.S agencies, Guyana could beat its mental health and Suicide crisis much in the way it has tackled HIV/AIDS and its drug trade.

Bryce Mathurin Lindsay
Photo: Flickr