Sexuality a neglected issue in teenage depression, suicide – Miss Guyana World and POTS President, Lisa Punch

The fifth installment 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 Coorindator, SASOD.

(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.

President of the Prevention of Teenage Suicide (POTS) - Guyana organisation, Miss Guyana World Lisa Punch calls for a socially-cohesive approach in tackling suicide, stress and depression especially when it comes to youth who are often overlooked.

In collaboration with the Mental Health team of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), POTS, with a focus on teens and young adults has been to over thirty schools and engaged around one hundred children individually and collectively approximately fifteen hundred with information and a mission to educate persons on mental health, depression and support for those thinking about or who know someone who have been thinking of completing suicide.

At a recently held “Lunch Talk” forum hosted by USAID’s Advancing Partners and Communities, in collaboration with SASOD, Lisa Punch announced that her organisation has found that at least 10% of teens and young adults they have approached are grappling with issues related to their sexuality, and thus, she feels society has failed them by not offering support and comprehensive education on sexuality. “Society tells them it is wrong [to be anything other than “straight” (heterosexual)], they hurt themselves, they fight themselves even and their families sometimes do not even support them during this time. They are not sure who to talk to and who understands - we need to teach them to believe in themselves,” Punch expressed.

An approach POTS has been using is to encourage teens to write down their feelings, foster positive energy and engage in community activities to build self-esteem, sense of identity and belonging.

The organisation has even launched a telephone counselling service through the GTT network, 227-TALK (2278255), a helpline which transfers the caller directly to the National Suicide Hotline. Severe cases of depression and mental health challenges, or even cases of attempted suicide are transferred to the GPHC and cases of mental illness are referred to public health institutions for medical support.

“Young people have a lot of problems when they are now discovering themselves, now finding out who they are as a person. They need support, they need to know that someone cares and we are here to listen and give support,” said. Lisa Punch further called on other organisations to heed to the calls of vulnerable groups and look out for signs of moodiness, withdrawal, rebellious attitudes and listen for jokes from people about killing themselves – this she said is a subtle cry for help which is often overlooked.

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. 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.