UK Diplomat calls for Guyana to decriminalise suicide

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Head of the British delegation in Guyana, Greg Quinn says attempted suicide should be struck off Guyana’s law books.

Speaking at a Mental Health training hosted by the British High Commission in collaboration with the Guyana Press Association (GPA) at the weekend, the British High Commissioner said there is a fundamental issue with making suicide or suicide attempt a crime.

“It is not a criminal offence. It is in no way a criminal offence,” he pointed out.

“It is a call for help so we should be helping them, not prosecuting them,” the UK diplomat noted.

Quinn said that removing the section from the Criminal Law (Offences) Act will also help families who have to cope with the loss of a relative to suicide.

“Not only is the stigma removed from surviving family members of those who do kill themselves but also of those who try and failed are no longer prosecuted…if you try to commit suicide in the UK and are not successful, you are no longer to be prosecuted, in Guyana, you are and this we believe is fundamentally wrong,” he noted.

The Criminal Law (Offences) Act states that “everyone who attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.” Additionally, anyone who aids a person in the commission of suicide shall be liable to life imprisonment.

The News Room in October 2018 spoke with some Mental Health practitioners who also called for the law to be revised.

Dr Bhiro Harry, Guyana’s most respected psychiatrist, said though he believes that the law does not contribute to the country’s high suicide rates, it will help in curbing the issue.

According to the World Health Organisation, Guyana had 667 reported suicide attempts between 2010–2012 resulting in an average of 200 deaths per year. This placed the country at the highest level in the world.

However, the Ministry of Public Health has since launched the National Mental Health Action Plan 2015-2020 with the goal of reducing the rate of suicide in countries by 10% by next year.

At Saturday’s meeting, Head of the Ministry of Public Health’s Mental Health Unit, Dr Util Thomas, said there has been 184 suicide cases in 2017 of which 127 were males and 47 females. This reduced in 2018 to 141 cases of which 117 were males and 24 were females.

She pointed out that there are many contributing factors which the Ministry is working to address. Dr Thomas pointed out that the Ministry is conducting a self-harm surveillance program while plans are onstream to establish a substance abuse ward in 2020 at the National Psychiatric Hospital located in New Amsterdam, Berbice.

Additionally, the Ministry offers services at its Mental Health Unit at Brickdam, Georgetown from 08:00hrs to 16:00hrs on weekdays.

There is also the suicide hotline manned by various Non-Governmental Organisations, the Guyana Police Force and other agencies to help curb the issue.

If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed and possibly contemplating suicide, please call the Guyana Inter-agency Suicide Helpline which operates 24 hours and is organised by the Guyana Police Force. Telephone -223-0001, 223-0009, 223-0818 Cellphone – 600-7896, 623-4444.

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