LGBT people among most vulnerable, susceptible to suicide and depression

The fifth instalment of ‘Lunch Talk’ was held on Thursday, January 14 at the APC Office. Lunch Talk is facilitated by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in partnership with Advancing Partners and Communities (APC). This month's Lunch Talk focused on Mental Health Challenges affecting LGBT Guyanese.

The panel included: Lisa Punch, President of the Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) Organisation and Miss Guyana World; Caitlin Vieira, Psychologist and Addiction Specialist,Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and Abdel Fudadin, Mental Health Researcher, CUSO International. Moderator: John Quelch, Project Coordinator, SASOD.
 Persons who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender (LGBT) are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual persons, global research shows – this was pointed out by Cuso International’s Mental Health Researcher, Abdel Fudadin on Thursday last,  at a forum on Mental Health Challenges facing LGBT Guyanese.
 
(l-r) Moderator: John Quelch, Project Coordinator, SASOD; Caitlin Vieira, Psychologist and Addiction Specialist,Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation; Abdel Fudadin, Mental Health Researcher, CUSO International and Lisa Punch, President of the Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) Organisation and Miss Guyana World.
 
The discussion forum, facilitated by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in partnership with USAID’s Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Project, sought to evaluate with various civil society organisations (CSOs) ways and means the Guyanese society can aid vulnerable communities such as LGBT persons from falling into mental despair and how support can be offered to them.
 
LGBT persons are often marginalised from society, discriminated against and shunned from accessing health, social and security services; this adding to some already possessing underlying issues such as social anxiety, battling with conservative and religious views and even stemming from impoverished neighbourhoods only weaken their mental health. Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety can develop along with post-traumatic stress which only makes the person more susceptible to substance abuse, risky behaviour, and suicide.
 
Fudadin emphasised that social support, counselling and mental healthcare is needed, especially for this vulnerable group. He shared that reports have shown effeminate boys and teenagers who identify themselves as homosexuals are shunned by their parents and even kicked out of their homes due to their parents’ lack of knowledge, understanding and general ignorance to sexuality; these youngsters suffer from neglect, abandonment – finding themselves in sex-work rings, crime, narcotic-drug circles, often leading to other risky behaviours, HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, which all contribute to their mental health deterioration. “It is a stark reality that happens every day in Guyana,” Fudadin expressed.
 
The Cuso International staffer also reiterated that more social support and education is needed on sexuality and understanding LGBT issues. “Health, education and advocacy needs to be strengthened. It is what we need to do, to work together; not let religious homophobes and conservatives cloud our progress as a society,” he said during his presentation.
 
Participants at the Lunch Talk
 
He pointed out that “in this day and age University of Guyana medical students are only exposed to twenty hours of mental health sensitivity training” which is, in his opinion, inadequate. Fudadin also called for massive training in information management, noting that there is a shortage of and lack of access to data on mental health in Guyana.
Fudadin also pointed out that there is a lack of a standardised screening assessment tool in public health institutions for mental health. The current system is a basic cross examination of family history, personal history, medical evaluations and looking at risk factors in their environments such as causes for depression; though there is a development project for creating a standard screening assessment tool, more needs to be done, according to Fudadin, not only for medical practitioners but CSOs that will be offering guidance counselling, referrals and services to their clients.
 
There is a National Suicide Hotline operation for people who are thinking of committing the act, for people who are depressed, anyone in grief, or who has lost someone to suicide, or for anyone who would like to help someone they know in need of it. The toll free numbers are 2233001, 2230009. Mobile: 6234444 (GTT) and 6007896 (Digicel). Text-messaging and “call me” features are also available as alternative options for persons who need support.