September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day 2021. The theme this year is set around ‘Creating Hope Through Action,’ with the focus being on exploring the complicated idea of ‘hope’ in suicide prevention. ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ is a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and aims to inspire confidence and light in all of us; that our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling. Preventing suicide is often possible and you are a key player in its prevention. Through action, you can make a difference to someone in their darkest moments – as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour. We can all play a role in supporting those experiencing a suicidal crisis or those bereaved by suicide.

World Health Organisation statistics show that 700,000 people die by suicide every year. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death amongst 15- to 29-year-olds globally. In Antigua and Barbuda, we have had two deaths by suicide in less than two weeks and we must begin to do more for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health as a whole. Our most recent Mental Health Act is dated 1957 and has not been properly updated since that time. As a developing nation, we must modernize our legislation to focus on mitigation, deinstitutionalization and addressing the issue of access to services and resources. Furthermore, our lone Psychiatric Hospital is in need of serious investment and maintenance if we are indeed serious about changing the narrative around Mental Health in Antigua and Barbuda.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has not only impacted the physical health of millions across the globe but the mental health of many more. The lockdowns, uncertainty, fear and desperation created by the socio-economic impacts of the Pandemic has highlighted how important having a sustainable mental health infrastructure is to the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations.

I am calling on all of us to practice empathy, kindness and patience and to be that light that someone may need to guide them out of the darkness. I am also calling on our leaders to make a commitment to making Mental Health and Suicide Prevention a national priority by updating our legislation and ensuring access to the resources and services critical to mental health care. Activists cannot do this alone – we need the support of all stakeholders in order to make Mental Healthcare a priority in Antigua and Barbuda. Facilities such as the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center and the District Clinics must be better equipped to handle Mental Health Emergencies. Our Law Enforcement, Medical Staff and Educational Institutions must also be given the requisite training to identify and manage Mental Health Crises. We must practice responsible reporting of mental health matters and hold ourselves and our leaders accountable when the system fails someone in need.

Changing the narrative around suicide through the promotion of hope can create a more compassionate society where those in need feel more comfortable in coming forward to seek help. We can all do something to live in a world where suicide is recognised – not stigmatized – and we can all do something to help prevent it.