Letter: Foundation urges conversation on suicide

The rate of attempted and actual suicide is on a rise in the Cayman Islands, particularly amongst our children and young adults.

A recent national survey of all children and youth at Cayman Islands public and private schools, including the University College of the Cayman Islands, undertaken by the National Drug Council in collaboration with the Alex Panton Foundation, produced statistics which supported this alarming fact.

One in three children surveyed reported suicidal ideation and 13% reported actual attempted suicide, but only 5% of these children in need are seeking treatment. The Alex Panton Foundation’s primary objective is to raise awareness of mental illnesses affecting children and young adults in Cayman. In response to this concerning data, the Alex Panton Foundation brought forward a submission to the Law Reform Commission to decriminalise suicide.

The Cayman Islands is among the minority of countries that have archaic legislation that still criminalises suicide or attempted suicide. The decriminalisation of suicide would align the Cayman Islands with other progressive Commonwealth countries.

There are no reported cases of prosecution being sought for those who attempt suicide in the Cayman Islands and this is in line with the view that suicide should be decriminalised.

Treatment, rather than prosecution, is the appropriate and recommended response for a person struggling with a mental health crisis. Treating suicide as a crime as opposed to a mental health issue further perpetuates the stigma that currently shrouds mental illness. This perception creates a barrier that stops people from seeking appropriate treatment.

Furthermore, those who attempt suicide are currently unable to access insurance benefits due to the act being considered a crime, hence preventing treatment and support to address the underlying mental health difficulties and the chance of a better life. (The Alex Panton Foundation acknowledges that the Mental Health Law, 2013 contains adequate provisions to allow police and paramedic intervention when a person is about to attempt to take his or her own life.)

The public conversation that will result from this repeal will encourage further dialogue on mental illness in our community. Addressing mental health needs in our society has the potential to reduce delinquency and increase performance and motivation to succeed in our students, which would help create a more productive workforce.

Addressing the suffering that is caused by mental illness to individuals and their families is an important step towards creating a healthier, more resilient and caring community.

National Suicide Prevention Week is 8-14 Sept. in the United States. The theme this year is promoting having a real conversation about mental health. You do not need to be a trained professional to have a #RealConvo and the Alex Panton Foundation want to encourage the importance of this.

A conversation could be the first step to helping someone get the help they need. For more information on this, visit our website www.alexpantonfoundation.ky.

Our support group Living with Anxiety and Depression will take place every Saturday starting 14 Sept. at George Town Town Hall. This peer-led support group, aimed at young adults ages 18–25 living with anxiety and depression, is absolutely free to attend. This is a safe environment for young people living with mental struggles to share their experiences. For more information on this event, visit our website and look for upcoming events.

The public is also invited to comment on the Law Reform Commission discussion paper on decriminalising suicide. Details can be found on www.lawreformcommission.gov.ky.