SASOD commemorates World Suicide Prevention Day with Candlelight Vigil for LGBT Guyanese

Commemorating World Suicide Prevention Day 2016 on Saturday September 10, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) held a candlelight vigil as part of a countrywide initiative organized by a group of civil societies led by The Caribbean Voice (TCV) for anti-violence activism, “Voices Against Violence” in support of the international theme “Connect, Communicate, Care.”
SASOD supported this initiative in consideration of the vulnerabilities lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese face every day. Most persons suffer silently from mental health challenges due to stigma, homophobic and transphobic discrimination and other related factors such as intimate-partner violence and depression.
Just last year October SASOD member and former Trustee Zenita Temall-Nicholson completed suicide; since then the organisation has been working assiduously to strengthen its community mental health support for LGBT Guyanese through its Human Services Programme.
Mental Health Specialist attached to the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and SASOD, Alexandria Schafer, remarked that stigma directed toward a certain person or people group is one of the most damaging factors undermining personal well-being. “Often times, those living with a mental illness in the LGBT community are faced with a double stigma and suffer discrimination both in their public and private lives. The weight of stigma can lead to feelings of isolation, rejection, and questions about self-worth. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that stigma often keeps people from seeking help when they need it most.”
SASOD/GTU Mental Health Specialist speaking
Schafer continued to say that “suicide is neither simply a personal nor social issue but rather a more complex problem that is impossible to attribute to a predictable pattern of biological, social, psychological, or cultural factors.” According to the Mental Health Specialist,  many of those contemplating suicide are experiencing overwhelming pain and emotional grief. “This pain is often made more extreme by the influences of societal pressures, stigma and discrimination – a pattern that is too familiar for many LGBT brothers and sisters.”
Programmes Director of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), Abdel Fudadin in his remarks to the group of thirty or so in attendance emphasized that prejudice; discrimination, social exclusion and mental ill-health are interconnected in more than one ways. “While people with mental illness may face discrimination due to stigma attached to mental health symptoms, discrimination on a variety of grounds can also be at the root of mental health issues. Discrimination and exclusion have proven to negatively impact persons with mental health illnesses which then increase their risk of suicide ideation.”
GRPA Programmes Director Abdel Fudadin delivering his remarks
He further expressed that on a social level, prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people are reflected in everyday stereotypes compounded by very rigid social identity expectations; for example, limitations on job opportunities, parenting, and relationship recognition are often justified by stereotyping assumptions.
He said that to commence positive support to minimize the risk to reduce stigma and create safe preventative measures we need to be gentle with each other; that is being open minded and apply a gentle approach to another regardless of socio-economics or current circumstances.“We need to confront parallel oppression against LGBT people since it is already tremendously difficult to co-exist in such a society as LGBT persons, and when there is parallel oppression operating, it can be extremely detrimental to those on the receiving end. We also need to start normalizing each other’s relationships in a peaceful demonstration of unconditional love, beauty, and embrace of who we are, the beautiful normal human that have a right to be,” Fudadin pleaded.
The vigil, which was punctuated with poetry by Andre Da Silva and singing by Katina Benn, ended with a pledge recited by the gathering.The pledge is for and in support of those having suicidal thoughts and those who know someone having some trouble, It reads: “I pledge that I willtell someone if I’m struggling and need help;reach out and tell you if I’m worried about you;listen to you, without judgment if you need someone to talk to;ask you, directly, if I think you’re trying to tell me about suicide;help you get support if you’re struggling and/or thinking about suicide.”
Attendees at the Candlelight Vigil
SASOD reminds the public and media that there is a National Suicide Prevention Hotline in operation for people who are contemplating suicide, 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 support. The toll free numbers are 2233001, 2230009 along with mobile numbers: 6234444 (GTT) and 6007896 (Digicel). Text-messaging and “call me” features are also available as alternative options for persons who need support.