The high suicide rate among people of Indian descent in Guyana is also seen in other countries where there is a substantial population of people of Indian descent and as such, Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar, a psychiatrist from India, is interested in understanding why this happens.
“I have always been fascinated by the fact that wherever people of Indian descent are in a sizable minority, the suicide rate is the highest among people of Indian origin in all these countries,” Dr. Vijayakumar told the News Room during an interview at the weekend.
She explained that in Suriname, Guyana, Mauritius and Fiji- all countries with a significant population of people whose foreparents migrated from India- many of the people who die by suicide are of Indian descent.
Earlier research conducted in these countries indicate a link between suicides among Indians and persistent poverty, alcoholism and mental illness. But, Dr. Vijayakumar says that no multi-country study has been done to understand why this has happened.
In Guyana, according to data collected in 2020, more than half of the people who died by suicide were people of East Indian descent.
This is according to information provided by Dr. Christina Hoven, the Director Global Psychiatric Epidemiology Group and Professor of Epidemiology and Psychiatry at the Columbia University in the United States of America (USA).
Dr. Hoven showed that 68 per cent of the people who died by suicide were of East Indian descent.
Otherwise, 14 per cent of the people who died by suicide were indigenous people, nine per cent were mixed race people, six per cent were people of African descent and the remaining three per cent of deaths by suicide were recorded among other ethnic groups.
Still, Dr. Vijayakumar says, “We only know that the prevalence (among the East Indian population) is high, but we do not know why.”
And she wants to help unearth the reasons why.
According to the National Suicide Prevention Plan 2015-2020 (2014), published in December 2014, Guyana was ranked at the top worldwide with an estimated suicide rate of 44.2 people dying for 100,000.
And, according to the data from the Ministry of Public Health (now the Ministry of Health) in Guyana on suicide in 2016, there was a high prevalence of suicide, predominantly among the East Indian population in the rural communities in East Berbice- Corentyne.
Dr. Vijayakumar is part of a team in Guyana that will be conducting research on the risk factors contributing to the prevalence of suicide in Guyana.
It is expected that this research will help to inform more targeted intervention to promote mental health.
On Monday, Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony noted that the ministry will seek to incorporate the team’s research into its new strategic plan for mental health.