September 10th is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day across the globe. This year, we are called upon to engage in ‘Creating Hope Through Action.’ The theme reflects the need for collective action to address this urgent public health issue. The DNA joins in the effort to build an enduring awareness that all of us – family members, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials and governments – can take action to prevent suicide. It is indeed tragic that in 2019, 97,339 people died by suicide in the Americas alone, and it is estimated that 20 times that number may have made suicide attempts (PAHO).
In 2021, it is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risk factors associated with suicidal behaviours and there is an urgent need for our society and key institutions like our schools and health centers to prioritize its prevention in Antigua and Barbuda. As a party, we are deeply troubled by the loss of two young persons to suicide. We find the deafening silence by our leaders to be even more troubling! Now more than ever we must appreciate that suicide is an all of society issue and we must begin to collect local data on suicide and mental health in order to make decisions and take preventative action, or implement effective treatment protocols that lead to good health and Prosperity for All. Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts not only individuals but also families, communities and societies. Associated risk factors for suicide, such as job or financial loss, trauma or abuse, mental and substance use disorders, and barriers to accessing health care, have been further amplified by COVID-19.
“Developing countries continue to lag behind in our approach to addressing mental health issues. The psychosocial markers and indicators that should be applied to stage early interventions are non-existent in many institutions where this type of assessment is needed. Our mental health facility continues to be denied the resources it requires to effectively treat persons with mental health disorders and instead turn many persons away. As a society we have not been sensitized about these issues so as to care for our own mental health or provide support or direction for those in need,” remarked President of the DNA, Ms. Joanne Massiah.
It is important that we all know and appreciate that suicide can be prevented. Evidence-based suicide prevention measures include restricting access to means for suicide, mental health and alcohol reduction policies, and promoting responsible media reporting on suicide are all important tools in prevention. We must also seek to dislodge the social stigma associated with mental health and focus on building broad awareness as a society so that we remove barriers to help-seeking by those at risk and in need. Mental health literacy and anti-stigma campaigns that are compassionate and empathetic require a type of transformational Leadership that has not yet been brought to this issue on a national scale.
As an organization intending to serve all of our people, we emphasize the need for our government to update outdated legislation and move quickly to put measures in place to ensure that there is adequate access to services and resources that are key in preventing suicide in Antigua and Barbuda. This is the only way forward.
Today, the DNA joins with families and the nation to remember those who we have lost to Suicide. Let us make a commitment to creating an environment of hope and let us advocate for and ensure the design of a system where help is accessible to those who need it most.