The following was excerpted from a feature written by former Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy on the suicide crisis currently sending shock-waves throughout Guyana. In his analysis, Dr. Ramsammy also provided some useful recommendations to effectively tackle the problem at both the national and community levels, which Inews will publish soon.
Suicide is a global and national crisis. But like cancer in the 1960s and HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, it is absolutely neglected in national and global development agendas. For sure, suicide has no color or ribbon or any well-established race or march to bring attention to the staggering loss of lives, even if it is a tragedy as big as any other tragedy anywhere in the world. But it is a global crisis mired in complacency and confusion.
Over the last decade or so a person ends his or her life every 1.8 to 2.4 days in Guyana. In the United States of America there is a suicide every 13 minutes and, sadly, there is a suicide every 30 seconds somewhere in the world. Suicide accounted for 1.4 per cent of all deaths worldwide in 2012, making it the 15th leading cause of death, almost as impactful as HIV and AIDS. Among the age group of 15 to 30, anywhere in the world, suicide is among the top 3 causes of deaths.
In Guyana’s case, suicide is ranked in the top 10 causes of death for the last several decades. In the age group 15 to 24, suicide ranks between 1 and 3 in terms of the top causes of deaths. In the 1980s, suicide deaths were about 200 to 250 per year. In the last decade it has been between 150 and 200 cases per year. While Guyana can improve our data collection, we do have a relatively accurate count of the number of suicide deaths, although we may not have maintained a good record of the number of suicide attempts.
It is estimated that there are between 1,500 to 2,000 attempted suicide cases each year, or about one attempt every 5 hours, in Guyana. Around the world, it is estimated that there are between 10M to 20M attempted suicide cases per year, or one suicide attempt almost every second.
While we acknowledge that the number of suicide deaths globally is about 1M per year, there is a significant under-reporting of suicide deaths in many countries. Even with the under-reporting, the 1M reported cases still represent a tragedy that is preventable and that is a shameful part of our global and national public health histories.
Rich and poor are affected, the unknown villager and popular movie stars are subjected to this tragedy. The truth is that outside of wars, people are likely to kill themselves more often than each other. There are more suicide deaths each year than there are murders. Of the approximately 33,000 Americans who die from gunshots inflicted injuries, almost 30,000 are because of self-inflicted gunshots injuries.
The loss of lives are tragic, but there are also staggering social and economic costs. In the US, studies have shown that suicide costs the US about $US40B. While Guyana has done no such studies, we had estimated that suicide costs the health ministry conservatively about $600M to $900M annually in 2002 when I was Minister of Health in hospital costs and other medical costs and loss of family income and for other necessary procedures, like autopsies.
Yet national efforts to stem this raging river of self-destruction — a majority of which occurs among people suffering mental illness — is in disarray. Most national programs to address this national and global crisis, hocking where there are national programs, suffer from a lack of commitment and an almost universal lack of resources.