On September 9, Australians wore yellow as a part of “R U OK?” Day.

A simple question that is even more important as we deal with the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns. 

Today, September 10, marks World Suicide Prevention Day.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 700,000 people die of suicide each year – that’s roughly one in every 100 deaths. 

The loss of anyone to suicide feels profoundly unfair and wasteful. In addition to cutting short the precious life lost, suicide significantly impacts the lives of those left behind.

But preventing suicide is possible. It starts with us. All of us can play a role simply by offering hope and connection to someone who is struggling. Asking a simple question – are you ok – can make a difference. As can ensuring we all have access to the important medical treatment required to support those suffering mental ill-health.

As close friends, Australia and Brunei are working together to make a difference on a broad range of issues, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and mental ill-health. These issues are closely intertwined with studies showing that mental health has markedly worsened as a result of COVID-19. 

Addressing mental ill-health is a priority for both our nations. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah stressed the importance of strengthening healthcare systems for the future, including to safeguard people’s mental health and wellbeing in his titah at the second ASEAN-Australia Summit last year.  

In May this year, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Australian government would invest $2.3 billion in Australia’s National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan to progress landmark reform in mental health support and treatment for Australians in need. 

We know that suicide prevention, promoting mental wellbeing and safeguarding people’s mental health is important work that cannot be ignored. We need to talk more about it to ensure people don’t feel isolated or helpless.  

From today, for the next month, the Australian High Commission will host Mental Health Matters Month, a series of virtual events to raise awareness and destigmatise mental health issues.

As ASEAN’s oldest dialogue partner, Australia is also pleased to be working with Brunei in its role as ASEAN Chair to find ways to address mental health issues that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Australia is proud to be supporting Brunei-led East Asia Summit Leaders’ Statement on Mental Health Cooperation which will enhance mental health cooperation and collaboration between the 18 East Asia Summit countries.

As we face this COVID-19 pandemic together, Australia is delivering tangible support throughout the Indo-Pacific through our $300 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, which includes a $21 million contribution to the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.

We have also made a $130 million contribution to COVAX, and are providing $100 million through the Quad Vaccine Partnership which aims to manufacture and distribute vaccines throughout the region. These initiatives will help the region combat and recover from COVID-19.

Australia is also working closely with the Government of Brunei to support its domestic response. Australia’s Department of Health has met with Brunei’s Ministry of Health a number of times to exchange views on a range of issues related to COVID-19. We are delivering training to support journalists and public relations officials in Brunei to counter disinformation on COVID-19 and vaccines.

Australia has also donated laboratory equipment to the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, and we continue to support Brunei’s brave frontliners through working with organisations such as the Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT).

Mental Health Matters Month provides a platform for us to join together to destigmatise mental ill-health which is impacting our communities more than ever. By doing so, we will continue to strengthen the close friendship between our two countries. My message is a simple and powerful one: Mental Health Matters.

I look forward to welcoming your (virtual) participation in the Australian High Commission’s Mental Health Matters Month. Those interested should keep an eye on my Instagram account – @duta.oz.bn – where we will announce further details.

If you need someone to talk to, please reach out to the Ministry of Health’s Talian Harapan on 145.  

• Tiffany McDonald is the Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam.