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    Guyana has the world's highest suicide rate. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 April 2017

Guyana's Ministry of Health is investing millions into a new program to reduce and possibly eliminate instances of attempted suicide and self-harm.

Guyana’s Ministry of Health on Saturday announced plans to launch a nationwide campaign tackling mental illness, Jamaica Observer reports, citing the country’s concerning suicide epidemic. 

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Guyana, one of South America’s smallest countries, currently has the highest suicide rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

The heartbreaking revelation has prompted the country’s Ministry of Health to pump millions into its Mental Health Unit, which is launching a program aimed at reducing and possibly eliminating instances of attempted suicide and self-harm.

“We have developed a tool for detecting persons who are indulging in self-harm and we will be piloting it soon, we will be piloting it in three hospitals,” Mental Health Unit Director Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas told Jamaica Observer. 

“The aim is not only to get statistics or to get data; the most important aim is really to treat, because when we find these persons we’re going to make sure that they get the treatment that they need,” Richmond-Thomas added.

The three regions in which the treatment program will be piloted — West Demerara, Suddie and New Amsterdam — account for more than 50 percent of attempted suicide cases in Guyana, according to the Ministry of Health.

The institution will also launch a nationwide questionnaire that asks citizens about the state of their mental health, which allows medical professionals to assess adequate treatment options.

Guyana, unfortunately, has a long and tragic history with mass suicide. 

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For decades, the South American country has remained among the top twenty countries with the highest suicide rates. The WHO cites deep rural poverty, alcohol abuse, low numbers of full-time psychiatrists and easy access to deadly pesticides as the leading causes of self-inflicted deaths in the country.

Guyana was also the site of the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, when 918 members of the People’s Temple religious organization died from self-inflicted cyanide poisoning. Jonestown, located in northwestern Guyana, was the site of a commune belonging to the group. 

Although the disastrous outcome of the Jonestown Massacre does not directly correlate with Guyana’s ongoing suicide epidemic, it certainly sheds insight into the country’s dark history with self-inflicted death. 

Guyana is the fifth poorest country in Latin America, the World Bank reports.


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