Reflections on Mental Health in Guyana

Reflections from Kerese Collins, ARCLIGHT Project Manager

I first became aware of issues around mental health in Guyana around 2012. I had just returned home to Guyana after completing studies in Trinidad, and for reasons that now evade me I began to pay keen attention to the incidences of suicidal attempts among our people. As far as I was concerned, I had felt that 1 suicide was one too many. Eventually, I began to compile a list of the headlines in an effort to identify any trends I had noticed.

A few days later, my list-making project was interrupted when the WHO released their statistics, declaring that Guyana was the country with the highest suicide rate per capita. Suddenly, there were conversations, conferences and social media posts. Mental health came into view.

I was not surprised, but I do remember thinking, “Did we really need an international body to make this declaration before realizing what was happening in our own backyard?”

One of the challenges we face in Guyana is that of a heavy dependence on “outside” influences. We assume that anything from outside must be true, trustworthy and superior, whether or not its value has been tested. The result – we often feel there is not much we can offer.

But I have always believed that there is deep wisdom to be uncovered in the hearts of the Guyanese people. We have lived through diverse challenges, tragedies and disadvantages, spread over decades and for some reason, we just keep going. We just need to figure out how to tap in to that wisdom and learn from our past so that we could pioneer a better future.

This is why I appreciate Participatory Action Research (PAR). PAR embraces collaboration, rather than imposition of values and theories. It seeks to engage with those experts who live at the community level to learn from them. A result is the emergence of an empowered people, whose internal skills and history are among their most valuable assets. This is what I am most excited about.

What if we are more resilient than we ever dreamed possible? What if we could solve our own problems by being open about our common struggles? What if we focused on our stories of victory and success? What if there was more to our common experiences than pain and shame and doom?

The possibilities are endless.

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