Schenectady Hindu congregation addresses suicide among Guyanese

Schenectady Hindu congregation addresses suicide among Guyanese

Pandit Jai Misir, foreground center in blue, the chief priest at the Schenectady Hindu Temple poses on Sunday, June 17, 2012 at the temple in Schenectady with a group of members of the temple who went through a training program to deal with and to work to prevent teen suicides. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

(TIMES UNION).-SCHENECTADY — The car veered out of control and slammed into a tree along Fuller Station Road in Guilderland in November. The one-car wreck appeared to be another tragic accident that claimed the life of the driver, but people who attended the funeral of 19-year-old Ganesh Deodat of Schenectady said he intended to kill himself.               

In February, a dispute between a man and his former girlfriend in the Vale neighborhood of Schenectady ended in bloodshed when Ramcumar Bandhoo, 38, fatally stabbed 47-year-old Rafeena N. Rahaman and then hanged himself.

Last month, 17-year-old Ryan Ramroop of Rotterdam tried to take his life by launching his Toyota Camry into a Rotterdam home, officials said. He survived with only a broken wrist.

The four individuals are among upward of 8,000 people of Guyanese descent who 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 these and other 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.

For Schenectady, the cases this year also are a reminder of another outbreak in 2009, when bullying and gang activity were blamed for the suicides of several high school girls.

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. Decades ago as a young boy, he recalled, he was waiting for his close friend at a cinema only to later learn that his friend never showed up because he had hanged himself over a breakup with a girl.

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.”

“I believe they need to get a better understanding of Hinduism because Hinduism does not condone suicide,” he said.

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.

Rajnikant Ishmael, the 19-year-old youth leader, said low self-esteem among young men — including some in their first serious relationship — can be a catalyst for suicides.

He was among several youths training to get certified as suicide counselors who attended a talk this month by Kelly Posner, director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment at Columbia University and a professor of medical psychology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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.

Knowles said two people have already told her they know somebody who might be thinking about suicide.

“The young people have stepped up to take the major force in moving this forward,” said Knowles, adding that the goals include creating a counseling/crisis room at the temple, seeking grants to keep the program going and maintaining a rotating list of doctoral students to conduct workshops and mental health and substance abuse outreach.

“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.”  (Demerara Waves June 27, 2012)

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Comments

  • Cyril Balkaran  On June 28, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Congratulations to the Schenectady Hindu Leadership for initiating action via the formation of a Counselling against Suicide among its following! This is not usually the case among Hindus and it is to be promoted among other similar temple groups elsewhere where the detectable elements of Suicide may be present. May I state that being a Hindu has absolutely nothing to do with high suicide rates anywhere in this widw world. Suicide is indeed prevalent among the young people than older people and it has to do with a mental approach and with the state of one’s mental health. If ones does a study in a multi Religious Society and finds out that the rate of suicide is highest among the Hindu element of this Multi Religious grouping(Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Pharsees. Spiritual Baptists, Buddhists, Sikhs, Sai Baba Devotees) then this is only an interpretation of the study data presented. Hinduism, Karma and Reincarnation has nothing to do with who wants to kill onself by drinking poison or crashing a vehicle or jumping off a hill or mountain. Please be aware and go about doing your studies on the suicide rates among Guyanese of all REligious sects also so that we can have rates to compare! God Bless you for a successful study and let us read your reports. Regards to the group and its leader Pundit Misir!

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