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Reconciling A Broken Heritage: Developing Mental Health Social Work In Guyana

The shadow of Guyana's colonial era lingers, marked by economic turbulence, deep-seated
racial divisions, and enduring trauma. Even with strides made post-1966 independence, these
historical imprints continue to shape present-day Guyana, thus profoundly impacting the
mental health of the population. This is manifest in endemic problems of domestic violence and
racialized social divisions, which have created the conditions for rates of suicide, which are
amongst the highest in the world. In response, Guyana has established a formal mental health
framework that tends to favour a conventional biomedical approach. However, significant
barriers—ranging from physical access to pervasive stigma—hamper its efficacy. It is also the
case that in times of emotional and psychic distress, and in the context of Guyana being a very
religious country, many people turn to traditional supernatural healers and remedies for
support. This paper posits that both medical and supernatural paradigms fall short of
adequately addressing the sociogenic factors underpinning Guyana's mental health challenges.
These issues, we contend, stem from the deep-seated trauma inflicted by colonial oppression
and its associated violence. We propose a more cohesive and comprehensive mental health
care model that embraces a sociogenic perspective and integrates diverse healing traditions. By
fostering collaboration among social workers and other professionals, a rights-based approach
can be cultivated, one that recognizes the societal roots of mental distress, paving the way for a
more empathetic and effective response to mental health challenges in Guyana.