One Every Forty Seconds

Tomorrow, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day and the latest news from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows we have much work ahead of us to reduce suicide rates around the world. Last week WHO issued a press release noting more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year, which comes to about one every forty seconds. If you’re like me, you’ve perceived that Western Industrialized nations have cornered the market on suicide, however, 75% of suicides occur in low and middle income countries. This was WHO’s first global report on suicide prevention.

Suicide can take place at any age. Globally, suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and over. In some countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young. Notably, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally, and that includes the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.

Generally, more men die by suicide than women. In richer countries, three times as many men die by suicide than women. Men aged 50 years and over are particularly vulnerable.

In low- and middle-income countries, young adults and elderly women have higher rates of suicide than their counterparts in high-income countries. Women over 70 years old are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as women aged 15-29 years.

Reducing access to means of suicide is one way to reduce deaths. Globally, pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide. Evidence from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and a number of European countries reveals that limiting access to these means can help prevent people dying by suicide. Other effective measures include responsible reporting of suicide in the media, such as avoiding language that sensationalizes suicide and avoiding explicit description of methods used, and early identification and management of mental and substance use disorders in communities and by health workers in particular.

Another key to reducing deaths by suicide is a commitment by national governments to the establishment and implementation of a coordinated plan of action. Currently, only 28 countries are known to have national suicide prevention strategies.

Follow-up care by health workers through regular contact, including by phone or home visits, for people who have attempted suicide, together with provision of community support, are essential, because people who have already attempted suicide are at the greatest risk of trying again.

“No matter where a country currently stands in suicide prevention”, said Dr Alexandra Fleischmann, Scientist in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, “effective measures can be taken, even just starting at local level and on a small-scale”.

WHO recommends countries involve a range of government departments in developing a comprehensive coordinated response. High-level commitment is needed not just within the health sector, but also within education, employment, social welfare and judicial departments.

I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve been hospitalized three times for suicidal thoughts and ideation because I knew I needed help. Many are unable to reach out to friends or family members when the need exists. In many instances the suicidal individual has no one they feel they can reach out too.

“This report, the first WHO publication of its kind, presents a comprehensive overview of suicide, suicide attempts and successful suicide prevention efforts worldwide. We know what works. Now is the time to act,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

In the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, WHO Member States have committed themselves to work towards the global target of reducing the suicide rate in countries by 10% by 2020. WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme, launched in 2008, includes suicide prevention as a priority and provides evidence-based technical guidance to expand service provision in countries.

The World Suicide Prevention Day provides an opportunity for joint action to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention around the world.

If you’re feeling suicidal and need someone to speak with, please reach out to one of the following suicide helplines. The countries I’ve chosen to list are where most of my readers live. If you do not live in one of these countries, you may find there is a suicide help line as well, or get yourself to a physician or emergency room.

800,000 suicide deaths each year is 800,000 too many.

US/Canada 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Australia 13 11 14
United Kingdom 08457 90 90 90

Source: World Health Organization

4 comments on One Every Forty Seconds

  1. It baffles me that people still don’t get it. Thanks for writing this important piece. I’m glad you got the help you needed and you’re still with us. I’m one of the lucky ones too.

    1. I’m glad you are on of the lucky ones, as well. I believe it the exposure that will come from WHO will give “validity” to mental illness throughout the word. As you said, so many people just don’t get it

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