National Assembly approves Suicide Prevention Bill

The Ministry of Health’s ‘comprehensive and transformational’ Suicide Prevention Bill 2022 was on Monday passed in the National Assembly, enacting the decriminalisation of suicide in Guyana and marking a major step in the country’s move to address mental health countrywide.

The bill seeks to provide measures to fight the high number of occurrences of suicide that have pervaded Guyana’s society for a number of years.

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony

It will see the provision of suicide prevention services and support to survivors of suicide, persons with suicidal ideations, and support for those who lost loved ones to suicide.

It will also see the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Commission, which will serve in an advisory position to the Minister of Human Services and Social Security in regards to legislation and regulations surrounding suicide prevention and mental health support.

The commission will also be responsible for the preparation of a National Suicide Prevention Plan, the planning, design and implementation of public programmes to reduce suicides and suicide attempts in the country, sensitisation and awareness training on suicide and suicide prevention, and the establishment of Suicide Prevention Centres across Guyana.

Presenting the bill to the National Assembly, Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, highlighted that the bill places importance on psychological support, for survivors of suicide attempts as well as those suffering from mental health issues that often go unnoticed.

He said the health ministry will address the issue by providing mental health support for persons at a high risk for suicide, and training primary healthcare providers to identify and report signs of mental issues such as depression.

This, he said, would enable those persons to receive critical assistance, and thereby reduce the risk of them attempting or succeeding in committing suicide.

“This bill contemplates that if people need help, that we will be able to respond very quickly and send a team out to that person, or those persons who need help,” he said.

He noted that suicide is a serious problem, but expressed confidence through the enactment of the 38-clause legislation, mechanisms would be put in place to curb suicide and suicide attempts, and foster the mental well-being of Guyanese.

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud, expressing support for the bill, underlined the importance of the decriminalisation of suicide attempts under the law.

“This bill addresses many critical areas, and I believe that it is pertinent at this point in time, because in this country, we are still encountering persons who attempt suicide and self-harm. If persons are to stop… every effort must be made to ensure those persons understand quite clearly that attempting suicide is not a crime, but an appeal for help,” she said.

The bill will address mental health promotion and care across a number of institutions through government collaboration and cooperation. It will also see schools, employers and families benefitting from education and awareness campaigns to prevent suicide and suicide attempts.

Policies to punish persons who may play a role in enabling a person to commit or attempt suicide are included in the bill as well.

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