Presidential Message

IASP President’s Message – Quarter 2, 2022

As we approach the midway point of the year, it is an opportunity to both reflect and look forward. It seems like we are at a stage where we can come together again in person to share our experiences and become reinvigorated following the challenges of COVID. The IASP 10th Asia Pacific Hybrid Conference (APAC) in early May was a wonderful opportunity for peers and colleagues within the region to convene on the Gold Coast in Australia. The event provided an engaging platform for conversation and learning among international peers; a real benefit of the hybrid approach. A key focus of the conference was to shine a light on the evidence and challenges around suicide prevention in lower and middle-income countries, as well as in indigenous communities, as well as providing a central space for lived and living experience perspectives throughout. If you wish to review particular sessions or were unable to make some parts of the conference, the content will remain available on the virtual platform until next May for all delegates.

The 75th World Health Assembly took place in Geneva in May under the theme ‘Health for peace, peace for health’. The theme is particularly relevant to public health, especially during the current turbulent period of concurrent crises in which we are experiencing a global pandemic, the climate crisis, inflationary pressures and armed conflict all at once. Such public health emergencies pose a significant threat to humanity and further exacerbate existing societal inequalities. This theme serves as a strong reminder that health is a basic human right that must be upheld. In the context of mental health care, the lack of availability, as well as stigma and discrimination are factors that prevent vulnerable individuals in accessing necessary support. As an international organisation, unity is at the essence of who we are and what we do. Now, more than ever before, we need to be unified and work together to minimize the mental health impact of such crises on the global population, with specific focus on the most vulnerable and marginalised subpopulations. There is no doubt that we are stronger and more effective when we act together. For further information about IASP’s engagement with the World Health Assembly, please read our Communication Teams blog on the event here.

I am also delighted to have recently worked with IASP’s Communications Team to produce the first episode of the IASP Podcast Series; ‘Reach In, Reach Out’. The podcast series aims to focus on current themes impacting upon suicide and suicide prevention as well as focusing on different aspects of suicide research. Our first episode was on the impact of COVID-19 on suicide (featuring Jane Pirkis and Michiko Ueda-Ballmer) and future episodes will look at suicide and suicide prevention in young people, postvention and the decriminalisation of suicide and suicidal behaviour among many more topics. We hope this is a meaningful way of engaging and hearing more about IASP’s work.

As President of our organisation, I wish to acknowledge the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the ongoing unrest in other parts of the world. I am saddened to learn of the devastation and tragedy experienced by individuals in affected areas and I remain extremely concerned about the impact of all conflict-related trauma on the ever-growing number of displaced individuals worldwide. Our priority must be to work to ensure that adequate supports are in place for those most in need, not only in the acute phase of war, but also in the longer-term to address the enduring effects of conflict and associated trauma.

Looking forward to what’s to come, we are delighted to be collaborating again with the 19th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour (ESSSB) which will take place in Copenhagen in August this year (after being postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). If you are planning to attend this in-person event, registration is now open. Our Regional Suicide Prevention Network Programme (RSPNP) will be running a preconference workshop at the ESSSB, on 23rd August 2022, on the early implementation of the RSPNP and the development of national suicide prevention activities/programmes, together with a concurrent session later in the week on the evaluation of national suicide prevention strategies. Both sessions are open to ESSSB delegates, and I would recommend attending.

We are also in the midst of preparations for our month-long awareness-raising campaign that begins with World Suicide Prevention Day 2022 (WSPD) on September 10th. Once again, this year’s WSPD will be observed under our triennial theme ‘Creating Hope through Action’; a sentiment which seeks to give us the confidence to take action and to be a beacon of light to guide those in crisis towards help. With the theme in mind, I wish to encourage you all to consider organising an event in your respective countries to raise awareness of suicide as a major but preventable public health issue. Our annual Cycle around the Globe is back for its ninth year, a virtual cycling event that involves a joint effort of our global community to rack up miles in the name of suicide prevention.

The annual campaign will draw to a close with World Mental Health Day 2022 (WMHD) on October 10th. This year’s WMHD assumes the theme of ‘Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality’. This message recognises the need to continue working on breaking down the barriers to mental health care, including the huge obstacles presented by the criminalisation of suicidal behaviour is too many parts of the world; decriminalisation remains a priority area for IASP. The issue of decriminalisation serves as a reminder of how far we have to yet to go to reach a genuinely inclusive and accepting global society.

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration (ICSPRC) who have played a seminal role in monitoring and informing suicide prevention efforts from the initial phase of the pandemic to the current day. We all owe David Gunnell a huge debt of gratitude for leading the Collaboration so brilliantly since the early days of the pandemic. Keep an eye out for the latest paper led by Jane Pirkis to emerge from the Collaboration, published in eClinicalMedicine, and reporting suicide deaths in 33 countries during the first 9-15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with pre-existing trends. The efforts of the ICSPRC have been highly valued not only by the suicide research community, but by the wider public health field and we will continue to support to this collaboration as they consider future directions for their work.

Very finally, I hope to see many of you in Copenhagen in August, so please say hello and let me know any thoughts you may have about IASP. I am excited to renew friendships and make new acquaintances.

Despite the obvious darkness of suicide, I feel so fortunate to work in our field because it is so collaborative, caring and compassionate. To my mind, these are the three Cs that drive all of our efforts to understand and alleviate the pain that leads to suicide.

Prof. Rory O’ Connor
President, IASP