It was really encouraging to witness all of the global activities during September, for World Suicide Prevention Month. Our community at the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) can reflect on a fruitful public awareness campaign wherein suicide was acknowledged for the major and preventable public health issue that it is – with the need for immediate action being emphasised. World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on September 10th brought suicide to the forefront of global discussion, with world leaders including American President Joe Biden and the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison publicly pledging their commitment to reducing the toll of suicide in their respective countries. The theme ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ encouraged us to be the light for those who need help finding their way through the darkness; a principle which should extend well beyond WSPD. As is the case every year, our members went above and beyond to ensure the message of hope was spread far and wide, with an array of both digital and in-person events taking place to acknowledge the day worldwide. Those who took part in our annual Cycle around the Globe amassed an incredible 180,000km in honour of suicide prevention, an extremely impressive achievement.
We overcame all of the logistical obstacles presented to us in recent months to host the virtual IASP Gold Coast World Congress in late September, which was an incredible success. Despite the lack of a physical element this year and the significant time difference for some, the engagement of delegates throughout the 4-day event was great. What’s more, this World Congress was the largest ever, demonstrating an advantage of utilising a virtual platform, thereby facilitating inclusivity for those who may not be in a position to travel across the world to attend in person. This is a feature we hope to incorporate within our hybrid Congresses in future. For those delegates who wish to rewatch or catch up on any sessions from the Gold Coast World Congress 2021, you can access the Congress virtual platform using your personal conference link (provided to you before the conference), where all recordings will be available until October 2022. A huge thanks to everyone involved, to the local organising and scientific committees, to all delegates, as well as IASP staff and all of our sponsors for making the Congress such a success.
It was a joy to learn that we may still have the chance to experience the stunning Gold Coast in person next year for the 10th IASP Asia Pacific Conference, which will take place in May 2022. The call for abstracts for this conference is currently open and will close on 31st December 2021. We also welcome the announcement of the next World Congress which will be hosted in Slovenia. I truly hope that we will have overcome the burden of COVID-19 by September 2023, to all convene in beautiful Slovenia to catch up and share our work with each other.
Rounding off the month-long awareness campaign, World Mental Health Day (WMHD) was observed on October 10th under the theme ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. This theme is particularly relevant given the exacerbation of mental healthcare inequality by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Recent research findings suggest that those who have been disproportionally affected since the onset of the pandemic are individuals who already faced significant challenges, such as those living with pre-existing mental health conditions, those from a lower socio-economic background, or experiencing employment and/or financial related issues. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that high quality mental health and social care is a reality for everyone irrespective of background or country. We must address these gaps in healthcare provision, reach those not in contact with clinical services, while continuing to work towards the decriminalisation of suicidal behaviour in those countries where it remains a criminal offence. The latter is vital as this creates its own barrier by deterring vulnerable individuals from coming forward to receive care.
Looking towards the future, we leave this year a little more hopeful than the last. We have reasons to be optimistic given the success of vaccination programmes. However, until vaccine equity has been achieved globally, inequality will continue to be an issue that affects us all. Every day presents a new opportunity to make advancements towards a more equal world for us all, in the context of public health, mental health and beyond. If we continue to work together, I’ve no doubt that we can drive progress towards ending this plight.
Professor Rory O’ Connor