World Suicide Prevention Day 2017
By Caitlin Vieira
I hope this week has treated you well.
Today, all around the world, is an extremely special day. Although many of you are grieving today, I encourage you to view this as a day to celebrate life, resilience and hope. Hope for those who have survived attempts and hope for their recovery. This is also a day to appreciate those survivors and all others who dedicate their lives to awareness and prevention.
The issue of suicide is not a simple one to consider because we, as a culture, have difficulty broaching it. However, suicide is an inescapable public health issue- one that still holds undeniable stigma within our community. Every human being is vulnerable to mental illness and suicidal thoughts, so it is my hope that this piece brings awareness, understanding, compassion and strength to have life-saving discussions and reach out for help.
Suicidal feelings and behaviours don’t just affect the depressed persons but everyone around them.
Please take some time to explore with me, an issue that has been discriminated against for far too long. The survivors and family members who share their stories here are real people who have been through the unimaginable and want their voices to be heard. Thankfully they have chosen this forum to educate, engage and allow us to see them as fellow human beings.
In today’s article I will share with you:
- Facts pertaining to suicide (both globally and in Guyana.)
- Warning signs of suicide
- Testimonials from family members and friends who’ve lost someone to suicide
- Risk factors of suicide
- Testimonials from persons who’ve survived suicidal thoughts and attempts
- Preventative measures
All statistical information was taken from World Health Organization (WHO), Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and the Drug Information Network.
Facts about Suicide
While it seems most widespread in our country, suicide is a world- wide issue. The World Health Organization has determined the world average of suicide to be 16 per 100,000 people. This means that if you take 100,000 people from any population and put them in a room, roughly 16 of those people are likely to commit suicide. Over one million people take their own lives globally every year- this works out to about 1 life every 40 seconds.
Sadly, Guyana’s suicide rate is 29 per 100,000- well above the world average.
Before April of this year, Guyana had the highest suicide rate in the world at 44 per 100,000. Our nation is now ranked 4th in the world behind Sri Lanka, Lithuania and Democratic People’s Republic (North) of Korea.
Still, approximately 200 people end their own lives every year in Guyana.
Region 2 (Essequibo) and Region 6 (Berbice) have the highest suicide rates in the country. Females attempt suicide up to 4 times more than males but males are more successful in their attempt. The majority (80%) of suicides happen within the Indo-Guyanese community. The most affected groups are between the ages of 20-49.
While the suicide rate in Guyana has decreased, our awareness and prevention efforts should not. It is not the time to get confident or complacent, but rather a time to further our efforts as they have proven to be effective.
Every child, student, parent, teacher, police officer, nurse, social worker and community member of any kind who has disseminated information throughout our country deserves congratulations and recognition. Guyana’s declining suicide rate is your victory.
Warning signs of suicide
It is important to remember that every single suicide is a tragedy. A tragedy that unfortunately grabs everyone’s attention when it is too late. However, suicide is preventable if we are aware of (and pay close attention) to the universal warning signs, most of which are emotional and behavioral.
The major signs would be emotional and behavioral.
Behavioral signs include a change in physical appearance, isolation, increased use of alcohol/drugs, recklessness, and disruptive changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Those who are thinking of suicide lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, talk about death or dying often, may give away their belongings, say elaborate goodbyes and/or noticeably begin to put their affairs in order. A suicidal person may lose interest in appearance or even personal hygiene. Self-harm such as cutting/burning the skin can be another warning sign – many people do this in order to prevent their own suicide but it means they have considered it.
Emotionally, a suicidal person may experience anxiety, seem unusually depressed, have little energy, become easily irritated or enraged or express feeling hopeless/ helpless. Their mood changes can be very sudden. They may express feelings of loneliness, self-hatred and shame. Many people tell me that they do not want to bring up suicide in the fear that they may put the thought in the person’s head. This is untrue as you will not make a person suicidal by showing concern. Instead, your concern provides a platform of emotional release for the individual.
I counsel suicidal individuals every day and while I cannot understand everything they are feeling, I have a fair idea of what’s on their mind. I know that most feel like a burden on their families and that everyone around them would be happier if they were gone. They develop such feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, they come to genuinely believe they won’t be missed or that their death would have no impact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth according to everyone I have ever spoken to who has lost a loved one to suicide. Some of those have bravely decided to share the stories of their loss.
The following stories are true accounts from those who have lost their fathers, brothers, friends and aunts. They share their stories hoping to make a difference.
The following story was written by Amy Young who lost her aunt to suicide.
“Suicide is often talked about like an anomaly, a rare and extraordinary tragedy, yet, it’s incredibly common. However, I never thought it would be common for me. I never thought I would know anyone who would commit suicide or even think about it, let alone my favourite person in the world.
I was a typical 26 year old living a completely contented life until one phone call changed it forever.
The devastating call came on January 31st at 11:55am bringing the news that my Aunt Beda had died. Before even having a second to properly process this news, my heart was broken and my face wet. Dead? What do you mean? Dead? My Aunt Beda? Impossible. No. There is a horrific mistake. What happened? She had drunk poison.
Aunt Beda, one of my mom’s youngest sisters, had been in my life for as long as I could remember. She teased me, bought me treats, played with me, loved me and most of all made me feel so special. She defended me to my mother and hide me when I misbehaved. She tried every day to make me happy and keep me laughing. She was so funny and I think what I miss most of all was her nicknames for people and her laugh… it was so infectious.
My aunt had trials and tribulations in her life, like every other person. I heard whispers that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was depressed but I never saw it. Around me,she was always happy and spirited, around me always joking and ready to play tricks on people.
I don’t know what she was feeling, what pain she was carrying with her, or why she thought that suicide was the only way to be rid of it. Or maybe or if maybe she meant for her act to be a cry for help. I wish I would have paid more attention, maybe spent more time with her. Maybe I could have seen the signs or talked to her and showed her that the world and I would not be the same without her.
My aunt in death, reunited her whole family. Her brothers and sisters who hadn’t come home to Guyana in decades came back for one reason. Her. Her son and the daughter in law she never met. I don’t think I ever saw him cry, except for that day. It’s disappointing that she never got to meet her grandson and the granddaughter who is named after her. Man, would they have loved her. I wish my aunt would have told us what she was really going through and expressed to us that this was the way she felt. I wish she knew how much we loved her. That we would have done anything to help her through whatever she was going through and we would never have left her in her time of need.
My aunt Beda committed suicide on her sister’s birthday. My aunt had just gotten flowers and was in the yard playing with her dogs when she got that call that would change her birthday and every other birthday forever. She still doesn’t celebrate her birthday on that day. We have to call her the day before or after. Her birthday is painful for her. I wish she could instead remember all the good times they had on that day.
I don’t know if my Aunt Beda knew how special she was or how special she made me feel. I wish I could have done that for her. She was my mother’s sidekick and they were in constant contact. My mother still has a hole in her heart and maybe even regrets not being able to ‘save her’. My mom has never recovered from losing her sister and best friend.
Sometimes you feel guilty for going on with life and laughing and having a good time. But not a day goes by that I don’t wish she was here with me. Teasing me. Telling me how I was a bad rude child who use to curse everyone they saw. Not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t break when I think, “Man I wish she were here.”
I know suicide victims have much pain and sadness but I don’t think they realize that when they get rid of their pain and sadness, their family and friends get that pain and sadness. I have to live every day of my life without her. Her grandchildren can never get to meet her.
My mother probably won’t laugh as hard again without her.”
Below is the story of Renee Tench and her brother Wayne.
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER
Wayne was 15 years old when I left home for good. We had separate friends at that time because of our age difference, and I don’t feel like I knew him as well after I left home. Fifteen is a tough age and with me being so preoccupied with my own life, I kind of lost track of Wayne and just assumed that all was well with him. When we saw each other, he seemed to be the same old Wayne to me. He had a couple of jobs but seemed not to hold onto them for very long. Anytime we talked he was always telling me about going and doing things with his friends. His best and steady friend was Kelly. They seemed to go everywhere together and I know Wayne loved her very much. She was so cute and she seemed to “get” Wayne better than anybody ever had. I thought she was a great girl and I was happy that Wayne had her in his life. Many years later, Kelly and I reconnected as adults and she has become a very important person in my life too.
Wayne never once said anything to me about anything outside of normal. He was always the class clown kind of guy. Always ready with a joke at any time. He could come up with the most hilarious things to say. After I had moved away I never once worried about him. I was just so clueless.
On Tuesday, February 21, 1984 Roger, my husband, and I were visiting Momma when Wayne and Kelly came by to get something from Wayne’s room. I don’t remember what exactly, but they were on their way somewhere else so the visit was brief. As they were leaving, Wayne walked back up the hill to the carport where I was standing and he hugged me and told me that he loved me. Well, he hadn’t done that in a very long time and I had a twinge of something strange, but I ignored it. As Roger and I were leaving that day and were pulling down the road in front of Momma’s house she came running down the hill yelling for us to stop. She asked me to step out of the car because she had something she wanted to ask me in private. She told me that she had found something in Wayne’s room that made her think that he was thinking about suicide. I said, “every kid goes through those kind of feelings, so don’t worry about it, it’s just a phase”. Furthermore, I told her that if she let Wayne know that she had been in his room snooping that he would be furious with her. I will live with those words for the rest of my life.
Two days later, on Thursday, February 23rd, 1984, I was at work at the animal shelter with my shirt stuffed with orphaned kittens. I was carrying them in my shirt to keep them warm and was bottle-feeding them every couple of hours. My friend and co-worker, Susan Boyer, came into the room that I was in and told me that Roger was out front and needed to see me. I could tell by the look on her face that this wasn’t a good visit. Roger was at work that day at the Fire Department and I knew he would never leave the firehouse unless it was extremely important. As soon as I laid eyes on him I KNEW it was Wayne. But, all he kept saying was for me to go get my things because we had to go. I kept asking him what was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me until we got outside. As soon as the front door closed I told him I wasn’t going any further until he told me what was wrong. He looked at me and said “Wayne has taken his life”. I started screaming and crying and laid down on the ground so grief stricken that I could hardly breathe. I feel exactly the same way right now. This is so incredibly hard to remember. Even harder to admit my selfishness. Why didn’t I take what Momma said seriously? Why didn’t I realize that he was really saying good-bye to me on the carport? Why had I not been more in touch with him as his sister? His friends knew way more about him than I did. He was only 17, how could I have let this happen? I ask myself these questions still even after more than 27 years have passed.
From that moment on, every member of my family became someone else. Our very identity had changed. We were now the mother, father and sister of the boy who killed himself. Trying to wrap my mind around this was impossible.
Roger took me home to change clothes and then he drove us through pouring rain to Momma’s house. When I walked in the door and saw her I almost died myself. I was so incredibly hurt, but seeing Momma completely broken… I can’t find the words to describe it. It was like we all went into a time warp that I’m not sure that my Momma ever came out of.
I was so confused and unsure of what to do, but I knew I had to take charge because Momma sure wasn’t able to think straight. I don’t remember a whole lot during this time because everything just ran together and I guess I was just so in shock. I was like Wayne in that once I was mad, I was livid. So, this made for some interesting moments at Momma’s that day and the days to follow.
Later that day my Uncle Ray came to the house and he had Wayne’s clothes, wallet and class ring along with 37 cents that he had in his pocket. He had gone to the hospital to identify Wayne and they gave him Wayne’s belongings. My poor Uncle Ray was just so sad when he walked up the hill to the house. He was the one constant in Wayne’s life as far as a male influence. Wayne really looked up to him and respected him like no other person on this planet, and so did I. Our Uncle Ray was a man’s man, and we always knew that we could count on him to take care of things. He made sure that he spent time with Wayne and he helped guide Wayne throughout his life. Wayne’s suicide really hurt him very deeply.
Momma walked around like a zombie and we both just existed the next few days. The trucking company my daddy worked for made sure that Daddy got the message and the company flew him home. He was there the next day as we were at the funeral parlor picking out the casket that would soon hold my brother. My heart was so broken for him and Momma, and I didn’t know what to do for them. I had never felt so helpless. Roger looked over at my daddy and saw that Daddy was wiping away tears. This was the first time I ever saw Roger cry.
Daddy had already started drinking, but he didn’t do anything out of the way. After the funeral parlor we went to the city graveyard to pick out a plot for Wayne and one for Momma right beside of him. Daddy never came over, but he stood outside of his truck and watched us from on top of the hill. To this day that is the saddest sight I had ever seen and it physically hurts to remember it. My poor daddy would have never won a father of the year award, but I know he loved Wayne so very much, but he just never found a way to really tell him that. They were both alike in that, but neither would have ever admitted it.
Roger and I stayed with Momma until after the funeral on Sunday. That first night Momma just walked around the house like she was lost. Late that night under the lighted bookstand that the funeral home gives you to hold the sign in book, me and Momma just held each other and cried. It was like we were in the middle of the sea in a storm and we had no idea which way to go. I cannot to this day imagine the grief that my parents must have felt. I do know that until the day that they died, that grief never lessened for either of them.
I learned later on that my daddy had gone down to the funeral parlor that night, drunk and grief- stricken, and had tried to pull Wayne out of the casket to take him home with him. He kept saying that he knew Wayne was cold and he couldn’t stand for him to be cold. The funeral home people were able to finally get him out of there, but I bet they were sure worried about the services ahead and how Daddy was going to deal with it. Just hearing and thinking about that happening still tears me apart. Thank God I was not there or I may have never been able to have gotten past it.
We held the “Receiving of Friends” at the funeral parlor and I think there were over 300 people that came. I am appreciative now of the outpouring, but at the time I was so preoccupied by thoughts of people being there just so they could see the spectacle. It went against every fiber of my being to have people walking by and looking at him there in that casket. It was all so surreal. It was like walking around in a nightmare. At one point I was in the room beside of the casket when I saw the distinct flash of a camera bulb. I shoved my way through the crowd to find my Papaw’s wife Wilma standing there with a friend of hers with a Polaroid of my brother lying in the casket. Have you ever felt yourself almost rip through your own skin? That’s what I felt like right at that moment. I started screeching at her for being such an idiot, and how dare she take a picture of my brother, and on and on. At the same time I am ripping up the picture and told her she had one chance to get out of there with that camera in one piece. I realize now how out of control I was, but again I could have cared less. In some small way, it was the last time I ever got to take up for Wayne and I like to think he would have appreciated that.
The funeral was held on Sunday and I have almost no recollection of that at all. I do have an audio cassette of it, but still can’t listen to it. I know that Wayne’s friends were there, and I was vaguely aware of them from time to time, but hadn’t yet put together what all they were going through. Kelly had been one of his friends that came to Momma’s house and had found Wayne dead in his car from carbon-monoxide poisoning. I can’t imagine what all she went through because of the choice Wayne made. How does a 17-year-old handle something like that? That vision burned into her brain forever. We have talked about it just a little, but I could never fully understand or know what all that did to her. Wayne actually left several suicide notes to his friends in addition to one that he had in the car with him.
Suicide is so incredibly selfish. I know the person isn’t trying to be selfish, but it just takes the pain from that person and places it on many others. I have gone through phases of being furious with him, especially when I was dealing with the deaths of our parents. I have also gone through such profound sorrow and guilt for not doing something to stop it when I had the chance. I try to cut myself a little break in that I was only 20 years-old. I was not old enough to have a clue myself, but I should have.
We never really found out what made him do this, but by reading his cryptic journal and the suicide note itself, I can only see an intense anger and disappointment with his life. In reality it doesn’t really matter why, it wouldn’t change a thing. Wayne would still be dead. Momma was consumed with wanting to know why, and she never really gave up trying to figure it out so that it would make sense to her. Suicide never makes sense, so the torture she went through was fruitless.
After Wayne’s suicide, we all spent the first couple of years walking around in a daze of confusion. Trying desperately to make sense of it and hoping that we would all wake up and find it to be just a really bad nightmare. Momma struggled to simply not burst into tears all day, every day. I have always heard the term “broken-hearted”, but until this happened to my Momma, I never really understood what that meant. She was truly broken in all sense of the word. She and Wayne were so close throughout his life and it was literally like someone cut one of her legs off. She was crippled.
Momma probably blamed herself more than anybody too. Wayne was so much like her and neither one of them could every really let themselves be truly happy. It was almost like they didn’t think that they deserved to be happy. Momma recognized this in herself and felt more of a responsibility in allowing Wayne to follow suit.
Since Momma and Daddy had divorced shortly before Wayne passed, Momma lived alone. This was not a good thing for her because it allowed her to wallow in her sorrow. Momma held on to her sorrow with an iron fist. She never stopped punishing herself. Rog and I both tried to spend time with her and help her at least think of something other than Wayne’s death, but she just about made it impossible to be around her. We were so very different from each other so it was hard to find a way to communicate with her that didn’t drag me down into her despair, but I wanted desperately to help her. All I managed to do was bring me down because I was such a failure at helping her.
Daddy just made sure he drank as much Vodka as he could to drown his ache. Daddy tried to drink away a lot of guilt. Poor Momma, she had to go to an empty house with nothing but memories to haunt her. Momma and Daddy both blamed themselves until their dying day. All of us will forever wonder if we could have done something, but the truth is, it wasn’t about us. It was about Wayne and his irrational decision to take his own life. That one decision made from desperation affected so many people and will forever define who we are.
I know Wayne would have never done that to us if he had been thinking rationally. I have often said that when I reach Heaven, the Good Lord best turn His head because the first thing I am going to do when I get there is punch Wayne right in the smack in the mouth! Then I will grab a hold of him and never, ever let him go again.”
This is the story of Andrea, who lost her father.
“It was the 10th of August, 2017 when I decided to write my story.
That Thursday was a very difficult one for me. That day it completed 1 year since my father killed himself. After that decision many thoughts stirred up in my mind. Things I`ve lived and also the many alternative scenarios I often imagine for that night.
My father had been continuously suffering from depression for the past 10 years, which was already a reoccurrence. I realized from my father`s patterns that depression comes in waves. There were years of great happiness, months of terrible sadness and days alternating both. He had suffered from deep depression in the late 90s and had to be taken urgently to Canada for treatment. After he was treated, he spent an entire decade, without medication and depression free.
In the beginning it was more of an “I don’t wanna see anyone” than anything else. He still felt safe around friends and family. My father and I were way closer than I’ve ever been to my mom. He would make an effort to come to my house as long as only a few known people were there. Soon it turned also to “I don’t wanna be seen by anyone”. When I called he would put on the best voice he had. No one could ever know what was going on inside that house unless those who were there 24/7.
There were so many rushes to the hospital… many interventions… I always knew that depression is the outcome of something deeper within, in the case of my father, there was this internal battle where the proud man he was couldn’t live with the decisions that he made.
My sister and I offered so many solutions. We played so many scenarios. He could live with me, I could come and work with him… all so that he know that as long as we love and support each other, we can make adaptations. No. He refused. It was like knowing that darkness is killing you, yet, you decide to live in a cave – And whoever wanted to meet him, had to go right in there.
It was a Wednesday night when I got a call saying dad shot his wife. I heard that and I couldn’t believe it. I think I flew from LBI to Lacytown and reached in about 10 minutes. I remember driving and trying to get my husband who was in town to go there and save the day, like he always does, so that I could just arrive and collect my father and deal with police and hospital…
When I arrived, my husband was behind the thick green-heart door, talking through a little strip. I later learned that the gun was loaded and ready, that is why he didn’t enter. I pushed my husband and he pulled me and I told him: “Let me go!” and I entered that living room and stood up looking at my father from a distance of around 15 feet while he held the gun beside his leg.
I told him so many things. First, I said how he didn’t have to worry about his wife being shot… We would just say it was an accident or something… I reassured him he wouldn’t be implicated with police… He did not even blink.
That look on my father’s face I cannot describe to anyone. It was like he didn’t know who I was and he showed no fear, no anger, no nervousness… just stood there like a wax figure. When I told him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, he didn’t give me any kind of acknowledgment. Not a frown, not a nod, nothing…
At some point I did realize somehow that he was done with everything. At that point I started talking about everything and everyone that could’ve mattered, like my sisters and how they had already lost their mother. I talked to him in English… I talked to him in Portuguese… he just stood there for about 40 minutes just looking at my face. That’s when I told him: “Okay, you don’t wanna talk? No problem. It’s gonna be me and you here then. I am NOT leaving you. We’re both staying here not talking anything”. The same place I was, bracing the wall, I just slid down and sat on the floor. This is when he made his first move; and that move was lifting the gun to his head. I begged him please not to do that: “please don’t do this to me…” “…are you really gonna do this in front of me?”. That’s when he entered the kitchen, just behind him, closed the door and turned off the light.
(You see, when arrived there, I went with full confidence that I was going to solve that mess and get my father to a safe place. In my mind, if there was someone in this world that could do this, it was me. In my mind I was the apple of his eye and in my heart he was mine. As I pushed my husband and uncle who were standing behind the door and entered and closed myself just with him in that living room, my dad would never shoot me. Not me! I would calm him, reassure him of his safety and of my love and I would make him put that gun down and go home with me. It didn’t work. Instead, I associate the fact that he went into the kitchen, closed the door and turned off the lights as a response to my plea for him not to do that in front of me)
I ran downstairs and told my uncle who was downstairs that dad put his gun to his head. Then we heard a BOOM. I flew up the stairs and the kitchen door was still closed. I didn’t know if dad was okay, wounded or dead… I was scared to see the truth. My uncle opened the door and I saw his feet and I was already on the floor, crawled to my father’s feet.
There is no such thing as killing yourself so that you won’t be a burden. Not in this case, at least. In the case of my father, I can’t say it was so that he wouldn’t be a burden because he shot his wife before.
Ever since that happened I changed a lot. I consciously make an effort to observe who can be suffering from depression around me. I try to occupy myself with work and children because I know that if it wasn’t for having to wake up every day, get dressed, to drop children at school… I wouldn’t get up for anything. For months I laid on bed. My husband was an angel throughout this episode. So supportive, patient and kind. I felt I lost my identity. I was born and lived in Brazil and visited Guyana sporadically because I was “Totty Adams’ daughter”. Not anymore. I still feel forsaken. I often think about what I could have done to avoid what happened during and before that tragic night. I pray and talk to God or the Universe asking to at least dream of my dad… so I could talk to him, ask him stuff…
This worries me now, to observe and detect who might be in a hard situation… maybe for my own good. Maybe to think that I can help somebody will make me feel better about not being successful in helping my dad and also it puts me in the position where I can forget to be depressed myself.
Below is an anonymous story of someone who has lost a best friend.
A little ditty ‘bout Jack and Diane.…. (John Mellencamp)
“Our favorite song, and we blared it every chance we got. Shout-singing it and playing air drums and pretend guitars until we ended up laugh-singing it, every time. Over and over, our young voices blended in a joyful warble about two kids doin’ the best they can. We were best friends rather than lovers, but the song was ours, every syllable and note; the song is ours, even 35 years in the future. It will always be ours. Only now I sing it by myself, without the will to conjure make believe cymbals or imaginary fretboards. I whisper-sing it until I end up choke-singing it, every time.
You left me a letter, an affectionate letter that you thought was kind. You said you loved me for being the best friend you’d ever had. You thanked me and wished me a wonderful life, as if those words would be a salve for my soul. What you didn’t write, what hangs thick and dark and stifling and shaming is the but. The unwritten but, the but that permanently changed our lives. I was a loving friend to you, but…. not enough. Not enough to lift you from desperation. Not enough to give you hope. Not enough to save you.
So, you stopped your own breath and turned me into powder. Not a satiny powder that dances downward onto eager skin, but a crude and grainy powder that blisters soles and souls, like miniscule rocks in a shoe. The pain of loss and pangs of shame grind and grate without compassion, each chafe whispering, “You weren’t enough. You’re not enough.” After a while, those whispers were all I heard, and I thought they were coming from everyone around me. I had let my friend die and deserved nothing good. I should just dissipate and float away like ash and smoke.
But as Mellencamp said, usually life goes on, and so it did for me. Decades and measureless mercies later, I am whole, intact, and content. With age and hindsight, I have learned to be grateful for the handful of blows life has dealt me; every blow but one. No good thing came from your death. It forever scarred and altered everyone who cared about you, and slowly slaughtered those who loved you most, your family. For me, the acute pain of missing you has dissipated with time, but the shame and grief have never scarred or callused. The slightest graze still causes blood and angst to surge from those wounds, threatening to crush me again into a useless powder of disgrace.
That’s my side of our story, or at least a part of it, but what about yours? Where have you been since that blood-chilling February morning when you stopped the music for good? Do you waft in powdery peace or do you exist only in our memories? Did you watch me discover your body? Do you ever wish you had stayed here to do good deeds and improve the world for others? I still think about and love you. I still think about and hate you.
To me, you are forever a teenager, joyously shout-singing while destructively silent-screaming. You are younger than my own children and no longer my peer. Instead of playing pretend guitars, I make believe that I was enough; enough to recognize your smoke signals of distress and help you love yourself and persevere through your despondence into a place of self-value and hopefulness. Those problems that squashed you then should be little more than dim memories now in your healthy, wise middle aged mind. And when Jack and Diane plays on an 80’s radio station, you and I should be smiling and remembering one another fondly, and maybe drumming a bit on a table top. That’s how it might have been, but….”
Risk factors for suicide
Suicide can result from a wide range of individual, social, cultural and environmental factors- there is no single cause for suicide. Risk factors are characteristics that make individuals more likely to consider, attempt or commit suicide.
Guyana’s high rate stems from its risk factors. Guyana’s prominent social ills matches closely with known risk factors for suicide. This correlation alone makes Guyana a likely candidate for highest world suicide rates. The highest risk factor for a suicide attempt is a previous attempt. The second is having a mental disorder. Over 200,000 Guyanese suffer from a mental illness – a number that is no doubt rising.
An individual who uses drugs (especially alcohol) is approximately 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than someone who does not. Those who are unemployed, feel discriminated against, hopeless, helpless or isolated are also more likely to feel suicidal. Those who experience abuse of any kind, the loss of a loved one, legal or financial difficulties are also at risk.
Other major risk factors include personal or family history of suicides, cultural/ religious beliefs that promote suicide, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, physical injury/illness, easy access to means of suicide and limited access to health care.
The testimonials below are from those who have thought about or attempted suicide but have thankfully survived and are hopeful for the future. They are the epitome of courage, strength and resilience.
The first individual has requested to remain anonymous.
“Domestic abuse is an invisible prison. I am a survivor not a victim, after living with my abuser for over 17 years with its negative impact on my life as well as my child.
I decided that I needed to end the relationship. It was one of the best decisions I ever made as I knew it was unhealthy on every level for me and my kid.
I can’t recall the first verbal abuse but I vividly recall the first physical abuse – It was a Thursday night when my abuser came home from work (we had no child at that time) and he was angry for reasons still unknown to me. He threw hot food on me and began hitting me on my head with the plate- I screamed and yelled. I attempted to leave the home but he begged for forgiveness and I accepted. This pattern continued even during pregnancy I was beaten with (mostly) brooms and my abuser had no remorse. I remember clearly he told one of his friends that “I just give her a good buss ass.”
I had a very complicated pregnancy so I became very fearful with the only thought and prayer being a safe delivery. I was very depressed after birth and my abuse continued daily – constant verbal, sexual, financial and periodically physical. My abuser had extra martial affairs and consumed alcohol regularly.
After one Christmas Holiday, when my child was 6 years old, I became very suicidal and wrote a note that I was going to end my life. I packed up all my personal belongings and labelled everything – where and who should get what, etc. When my abuser came home that day, I give him the note and left both him and my daughter, who was in tears. I didn’t know how I was going to kill myself but I knew I was going to. While walking on the road a friend who worked taxi saw me and questioned where I was going (I was wearing more or less rags). Somehow he persuaded me to get into his car and he took me by my cousin. All I remember there is that I drank some coffee and I wanted to know about my kid. That same night I went home and my kid was so happy to see me. I showered, played with her and went to bed. My abuser said nothing to me. The next day I decided that I must get some help (counselling from a Pastor). I did counselling and after which I became an advocate for Suicide prevention and started reaching out to persons (mostly women and youth) to help them. However, my own abuse continued.
One Sunday morning, in May 2011, the physical abuse was so intense… beaten so badly with a cutlass to my throat…I pleaded for my life while my child was crying for help. He had us locked into the house. Eventually he calmed down, called a friend and he left the house. I quickly changed the locks on the gate, reported the matter to the police and he was locked up for a short period of time.
The matter was before the courts and he begged and cried for us not to send him to jail. He was placed on year bond as I didn’t give testimony in court. I didn’t want the stigma that my kid would have….a father in prison. I put him out of the house and did family counselling with my daughter. A few months after he moved back into the home on the pretext that our kid needs him (I was a fool).
Eventually the abuse resurfaced…this time more verbal, financial, damaging personal property and the sexual abuse became intense. I cautioned that I will report the abuse to the police which allowed it to stop for a while and continue only periodically. Very early in this New Year (2017), he threatened to kill me and I knew then that I had to end this. I reported the matter to the police and the matter went to court yet again. He is no longer in my or my kid’s life. The physicals scars have ameliorated but the emotional scars are still with me. I have to live with them but I am trying to put them behind me and make a better life for us. To all, you don’t have to live in fear of abuse. I know that abuse (in any form) is complicated and it can lead to hopelessness, self -harm or depression.
Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it’s all an experience. I had suicidal thoughts and I am thankful that I did not attempt. As I reflect on my life I am 110% certain that suicide is not and never is the answer to any problem/issue. Life has so many challenges but suicide is not the answer. I have so much to be thankful for. If I had committed suicide I wouldn’t have been able to be the integral part of my child’s life like I am now. I wouldn’t have been able to overcome my abuse.
It takes courage to live each day fully trusting that tomorrow is a fresh new one, filled with endless possibilities for happiness and success. I may not be where I want to be but I’m thankful for not being where I used to be. The gift in life is life itself. I sincerely hope that my story can make a difference in at least one life. Don’t live in fear … seek help!! This is from an Advocate for Suicide Prevention and abuse.”
In the following story, Leslyn Holder bravely shares her experiences.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity of sharing my life experience with you. You see, I was raped when I was just 14 years old. I then became pregnant and had to drop out of school. I thought my entire life was ruined. Then I had the baby; I would stare at the baby and felt nothing but anger and hopelessness. Just when I thought that was the worst – my baby boy died when he was only six months old. It was at this point my world turned upside down.
That was when my fight began. I made one disastrous mistake after another in trying to right the wrongs in my life. I was drinking heavily and living recklessly – I spent my days just wandering around aimlessly.
Feeling worthless, ashamed and disappointed in myself, I started having suicidal thoughts. The drinking got worse and decision making poorer. I ended up in a very abusive relationship at the age of 17. At the time I thought it was what was best for me. But I didn’t respect myself, so I allowed my boyfriend to be disrespectful to me. What I now know is that, in my mental state at the time, I was not in any way capable of any form of relationship. I had masked my behaviour by pretending! I pretended all was well.
I hit rock bottom after my boyfriend beat me to the point of unconsciousness then left me in a showroom with the shower running. I woke up hours later and felt sick and hopeless. I made the decision that I don’t want to live anymore. The plan was to burn myself in the house but after considering others living in the apartment next door decided that I would ingest something. I searched for the rat poison we had bought but couldn’t find it. We had about 2 gallons of Kerosene oil and I decided that this was it.
So I attempted to harm myself by ingesting more than half of the amount. Once again I passed out. My younger brother who was with me found me on the bed room floor and dragged me to the toilet after I started to vomit. He went to tell the neighbours but no one came. My boyfriend had disappeared and after about 3 days I felt better. I did some serious thinking and decided to go home.
Within weeks I was drinking again – I couldn’t find peace with myself. I knew I was really heading for disaster. No matter how many friends I had, how many parties I attended and how many days I got drunk – something was missing.
I woke up one day and realised that my childhood dream of becoming a nurse was slipping away – that was like a knife in my gut!! The next day, with stale alcohol on my breath I enrolled for evening classes. Not knowing how I was going to pay for it without a job, my suicidal thoughts were still lingering but I was determined to get my life back. I must do this for me, I told myself. With all the determination and will left in me I found a job and started my evening classes to pay for my GCSEs
I’m now a Registered General Nurse with over 25 years of nursing experience and I currently work as a manager for a long term care facility. I’ve lived overseas for a while where I worked and studied. My qualifications are aimed at Public Health in the capacity of Leadership and Management for Health and Social care Services – Adult and Children.
I returned to Guyana to give service to the people of Guyana in whatever way I can. I have strong views about domestic violence, rape, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and other substance misuse. I am disturbed by the many social ills in underserved communities where children are deprived of their basic human rights and needs. I was once that child.
However, today my entire life has changed. I enjoy working as a Social Activist for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness. I am also the Founder of the “By Faith” Foundation for Hinterland children; a Non Profit Charity Organisation set up to assist children in rural Guyana to access formal education.
I published my first book in America in 2013. My book “Where the Rivers Run Deep” equips readers with the necessary arsenals in the form of values and virtues to overcome life’s seemingly hopeless ordeals. I wrote this book to try to inspire young people, especially young women. This trenchant book contains a cloudburst of emotions ranging from love of family to the harrowing struggles braved in a desire to secure a haven and future for my children.
Thank you very much
- Leslyn R Holder
Our final writer has asked to remain anonymous.
How I keep on living.
I’ve never had an actual plan to commit suicide but I’m not afraid of dying either, if that makes sense. Some days I wish someone would come and end my life for me – to just make things easier
However, the days aren’t all bad. On the other days, I hope that God wasn’t listening and doesn’t take me. The whole “be careful what you wish for”
The reason for this is that my happiness doesn’t lie with me but with everything else around me.
For example, if my work, family and relationships are going well, I’m doing well. If I fight with my boyfriend or realize someone doesn’t like me, or that someone is judging me, my day turns horrible. This makes me very unhappy as I cannot control what other people do. I can’t control if I’ll be stuck in traffic or if someone is rude to me.
I constantly hate myself for letting these little things get me down and it makes me want to not live sometimes. My happiness lies in the way I look, the way people respect me etc. these are things that won’t always be positive so it really scares me. I also think very negatively. I imagine the worst in any and every situation. It’s so emotionally and physically draining.
And of course my coping skills are purely negative. I drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and weed to feel better. If I’m not doing that, I’m taking comfort in food or my bed. I decided that I had to make a serious change in my day to day life or I may very well become suicidal with a plan and not just a want.
I knew from reading Caitlin’s column that it had to start with my coping skills. I love her usual Sunday column which is why I agreed to do this but I couldn’t put my name because my family doesn’t know how I feel. I don’t want them to take on any more stress than they have. My parents fight all the time, they have money issues and my brother also gives them a hard time.
They think I’m the good one and I guess I have to keep allowing them to think that. I don’t want them to be disappointed and also see me as a burden. As I was saying, the biggest change I made was my coping skills. Which means whenever I was angry, sad or irritated, instead of drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes or weed, I would do something healthier.
I would either exercise by dancing (I love trying on my fancy clothes and dancing in a mirror), I would read something interesting or most effectively, I would do a creative project. Last week it was painting and this week I’m going to try building a large puzzle.
Since I can’t help but feel sad or angry, I can help how I deal with it and it made a world of a difference. What also helps me is reciting positive words – the opposite of what makes me so insecure. I like to look in the mirror and say that “you are strong, you are beautiful, you are kind and you are enough”. I found this to help as well.
I also started to turn to God. I find saying to god that “I’m leaving my mood and happiness in your power today” that it helps a lot. Because unlike my family, friends, significant other, co- workers and even strangers on the street, my god wouldn’t want to hurt me. He wouldn’t even dream of doing it. I wanted to just share those things and hope that they help you the way it helps me. I wouldn’t even want my worst enemy to feel what I have been feeling. But I take it day by day. You can too.
I cannot thank everyone enough for the bravery, strength and resilience it took to share your stories.
How can we prevent suicides?
It takes an entire country to do this. I am not going to talk about the new laws, policies and interventions (for example pesticide restriction laws and school based prevention programs) that are needed for this change. I’m going to talk about what any individual can do to make a difference.
These are called protective factors – characteristics that make an individual less likely to take their own life.
First, start with you. Improve your self-esteem and self-worth. This can be done with the basics- eating, sleeping and exercising well. This starts with you but others definitely play a role in how we feel about ourselves. This can make us feel weak at times but it also means that you play a role in how others feel about themselves. We have the power to make someone else feel good today and our willingness to do so says a lot about who we are. Compliment rather than ridicule.
Practice healthier coping skills. A lack of healthy coping skills is a serious risk factor for suicide. No one is immune to life’s stressors- some people are simply better at dealing with them. Make a list of your current coping skills- what you do when you are angry or sad. Do you scream at others? Do you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Do you blame others? Make a list of new, positive coping skills. Listen to music or take a second to recite something that calms you down. Practice (it takes a lot) replacing old habits with the new ones. The beauty about stress is that it doesn’t matter what is causing it- familial issues, financial, work related etc., the way we deal with all stressors is the same- with good coping skills.
Any individual who expresses thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously but there are factors that make individuals particularly high risk. These are intention, plan or means. Does the person intend on taking their own life? Is there a specific plan – place or time? Is there a planned way of doing it? If all of this has been considered, an attempt is very likely to occur.
Do you know someone who is considering suicide? Just be there for them. Accompany them to their first and follow up appointments.
Basic environmental protective factors include education and awareness of the health care available. Do you know where to get help? What can you do in your home? Reducing access to means of suicide would be a good start. Keeping a clean home does not just mean sweeping or washing up. It means having a non-abusive and drug free household. Everyone should feel safe, loved and protected in their own home.
Educate those around you- share your knowledge with members of your community. With the teachers in your local schools, nurses in your local health centres, police officers in your local stations.
Be a supportive and caring friend/ family member. I know it is difficult in hard times, especially if you do not know what to say. Here are some things that can get you started:
“I thought about you and wondered how you were doing”
“You haven’t been yourself lately, is everything okay?” “Is there anything you would like to talk about?”
“How can I best support you right now?”
“I can only imagine how you are feeling and just want to help.”
“I am here for you, whenever you are ready. I want to be here for you.”
Just be yourself – if you show genuine concern, it can trump ‘saying the wrong thing.’ Listen calmly, patiently and empathetically. Do not judge or try to minimize their problems by maximizing your own. Do not push your beliefs on to them. Take their words seriously and offer help and reassurance.
Many people who are considering suicide do not actually want to die, they simply want to stop hurting. It is a desperate attempt to relieve what seems like incurable pain. However, all suicide does is eliminate the possibility of healing.
For those of you who are feeling this way, you are not alone. Just remember that even the darkest hour has only 60 minutes. The worst day of your life has only 24 hours and then resets. The night must become very dark for the stars to finally show.
I want to reiterate how important it is to reach out for help. It takes nothing but courage and strength to show vulnerability. A courage that will inspire those around you who may also be afraid to reach out. If you have been looking for a sign to live or get help, this is it.
C.S Lewis said – “there are far far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.”
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, please call the 24 hour suicide prevention helpline at 223-0001, 223-0009, 623-4444 or 600-7896.
Please also feel free to email me personally at [email protected]
The world is a better place with you in it.