Campaign to decriminalize suicide in four Caribbean nations gains momentum | Mental health

Pressure to decriminalise suicide in four Caribbean nations is mounting as a new coalition has come together for the first time to fight for the repeal of colonial-era laws.

A group of people with experience in mental health issues, government officials, activists, legal experts and health workers, led by Caribbean organizations, will advocate for legislative reform. They want to reduce barriers for people seeking help and ensure that mental health services can operate without fear of legal repercussions and ultimately save lives.

Suicide is illegal in Saint Lucia, Grenada, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, and attempted suicide is punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine. The laws were introduced by the British during colonial rule. Suicide was decriminalized in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 1960s; has never been an offense under Scottish law.

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Although the laws are rarely enforced in the Caribbean and many people do not know they exist, there have been reports of arrests. Laws continue to be used to threaten people, according to Desarie Nicholas, a coalition member, social worker and founder of Caricope Wellness Alliance, an organization that offers mental health support to Caribbean people.

“I had a client who was leaving a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt and they told her, ‘You have to keep checking in with us every month because if you don’t, you know we can send you to jail,’” Nicolas said. “How does that help them feel cared for, safe and willing to be really honest about how they feel? This law informs everything we do and the way we think about things.”

Around the world, there are 25 countries where attempted suicide remains a crime and 27 where the status of legal frameworks remains uncertain, according to Decriminalize Suicide Worldwide, a global campaign by Lifeline International.

The decision to repeal laws in the Caribbean comes at a time when several countries, including Guyana, Pakistan, Ghana and Malaysia, have scrapped similar colonial-era laws criminalizing suicide.

This decision is part of the Bridgetown Declaration adopted at the Small Island Developing States Ministerial Conference on Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health last year, where members committed to decriminalizing suicide.

Dr. Timothy Morgan, director of the mental health unit at the Guyana Ministry of Health, where in 2022 the Suicide Prevention Bill repealed the law that made suicide a criminal offense and replaced it with a national prevention plan of suicide, said: “Although it is rare for those who attempt suicide to be charged or imprisoned in Guyana, the previous law only added another layer of legal complexity to those who experience emotional distress from contemplating suicide and needing mental health care.” .

More than 700,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide, approximately three-quarters (77%) in low- and middle-income countries. It is the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29.

Reducing the global suicide mortality rate by a third by 2030 is a goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the World Health Organization, which states that laws that make suicide and suicide attempts illegal remain an impediment to achieving this goal. The WHO has published guidance on decriminalizing suicide for policymakers, with explanations of how countries have achieved it.

  • International helplines can be found at In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted by calling 116 123 or emailing or In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or via chat for help. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is 13 11 14

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