SCHENECTADY, NEW YORK, June 27, 2012 (Times Union): Upward of 8,000 people of Guyanese descent live in and around Schenectady in an immigrant community that has been lauded by city officials for its resourceful willingness to buy and rehab homes in blighted inner-city neighborhoods. But recent cases of self-inflicted violence have raised concerns about their likely connection to a dark heritage in Guyana, where the high rate of suicide, which claims between 150 and 200 young lives each year, is considered a public health crisis. With 45 suicides per 100,000 people, the South American country on the Caribbean coast is among the top 10 on the World Health Organization's list of suicide rates. There are no firm numbers on suicides among the local Guyanese, in part because taking one's own life is not a crime tracked by law enforcement agencies.
Pandit Jai Misir, the spiritual leader of the Schenectady Hindu Temple, has seen the perils of suicide among fellow Guyanese back home and in the Capital Region, where he has lived since 1969. "What I see here in Schenectady has to do with this boyfriend-girlfriend situation," said Misir, who is an adjunct professor at Hudson Valley Community College. Misir, 65, said the problem is more prevalent among Guyanese of East Indian descent. His congregation, made up mostly of members of that ethnic group, has started a program called "Save a Life" to educate and train people about suicide and dispel misconceptions about the Hindu religion and reincarnation. "A person does not escape his or her own pain in suicide," Misir said, noting that Hindus believe suicide actually results in bad karma and that those who take their own lives "defer that pain to their next reincarnation."
Schenectady Hindu Temple member Chris Knowles came up with the idea for the "Save a Life" program. Knowles, who is a psychiatric nurse and has been a youth suicide coordinator, is especially proud that the temple's youth group is spearheading the effort to reach out to save other youngsters who may be at high risk for suicide. The program began a few months back, when Knowles drafted Hindu-oriented suicide risk education brochures that she described as "clinically and spiritually accurate." "It teaches young people to look for cues from their friends that something is wrong," said Knowles, adding that studies show that young people contemplating suicide "usually say something to a friend, and it's not necessarily an overt system."
To date, 10 members of temple have become certified in the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale method of determining youngsters' risk level for suicide. Additionally, the temple has a group of University at Albany doctoral students in clinical and counseling psychology who will conduct workshops starting next month on a variety of issues, including conflict resolution, recognizing signs of depression and developing coping skills. "We're starting with our community because our community historically has a high rate of suicide," she said, "but we are not exclusive of anyone," said Knowles.