Estimated 20,000 Guyanese battling severe mental illness; suicide among young people increasing

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There are approximately 20,000 people battling several mental illnesses in Guyana while suicide among the country’s youth appears to be increasing, a mental health and well-being conference heard on Tuesday.

The second Guyana well-being conference is being hosted at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown.

Key local, regional and international stakeholders are gathered here as part of efforts to improve mental health care and reduce the prevalence of suicides in Guyana.

At the opening ceremony of the conference, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said that mental health concerns are prevalent in Guyana. Among the concerns is that some 20,000 people grapple with severe mental illness while many more face mental health challenges.

Because of long standing challenges in data collection locally, he said that official figures may be much lower than the actual state of people’s mental health in Guyana.

As such, he reasoned that improved and expanded care for people is crucial.

Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony addressing the opening ceremony of the Guyana Wellbeing Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on Tuesday (Photo: News Room/ November 15, 2022)

Beyond this, however, suicide is another major concern. For many years, Guyana has grappled with high suicide rates.

Official figures presented at the conference show that Guyana had the second highest suicide rate in the world in 2019, at an estimate mortality rate of 40.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Lesotho, with its suicide rate of 72.4 deaths per 100,000 people, is the only country with a higher rate.

Dr. Christina Hoven , Director of Global Psychiatric Epidemiology Group at Columbia University and key organiser at the ongoing conference, told the gathering that some suicide statistics in Guyana have been consistent.

That includes the prevalence of suicide among men and the East-Indian population, as well as the substantial misuse of pesticides.

“Suicide among young people is growing,” she said.

This concern, alongside Guyana’s long-standing challenges with suicide, is part of the impetus for greater collaboration and research locally. With research-based interventions, Dr. Hoven believes that Guyana can be removed from the top 10 list of countries with the highest suicide rates in the world.

The Health Minister agrees.

He also offered his own suggestions, including the need to eliminate the means of self-harm from people and providing as much care and support as they need.

“The only way we can work on reducing the burden of suicide is if we all work together,” he said.

Dr. Anthony also pointed out that the government has passed new mental health and suicide prevention laws that are expected to aid efforts at promoting people’s well-being.

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