WHO: 1 in 100 deaths is by suicide

Over 700 000 people lose their life to suicide every year says a new study by the UN’s health agency.


A new study by the United Nations health agency shows that suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, taking more lives each year than HIV, malaria, breast cancer, war and homicide.  This prompted the WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.

Released on Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research entitled, “Suicide worldwide in 2019”, estimated that more than 700,000 people, or one in 100, died by suicide in 2019.

“We cannot – and must not – ignore suicide”, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  “Our attention to suicide prevention,” he said, “is even more important now, after many months living with the Covid-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide   ̶   job loss, financial stress and social isolation – still very much present.”  Tedros said that the new guidance released by the WHO provides a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts.”

Statistics

According to the study, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29, after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.  While rates vary between countries, regions and gender, the research shows that more than twice as many men kill themselves than women (12.6 per 100 000 males compared with 5.4 per 100 000 females).  Those rates are generally greater in high-income countries (16.5 per 100 000), while the highest suicide rates for women were found in lower-middle-income countries (7.1 per 100 000).

The 2019 global average of suicide rates stood at 9 per 100,000 people, while that average jumped to 11.2 in the WHO Africa region; 10.5 in Europe; and 10.2 in Southeast Asia. At 6.4, the Eastern Mediterranean region had the lowest rate.  “Each one is a tragedy”, said the WHO chief.

While the report showed a global suicide drop of 36 per cent between 2000 and 2019, the Americas Region witnessed a 17 per cent surge.

Although some countries have placed suicide prevention high on their agendas, WHO notes that too many countries remain uncommitted. Currently, only 38 countries are known to have a national suicide prevention strategy. A significant acceleration in the reduction of suicides is needed to meet the SDG target of a one-third reduction in the global suicide rate by 2030.

Guidelines

WHO’s ‘LIVE LIFE’ suicide prevention guide focuses on 4 strategies: limiting access to the means of suicide; educating the media on responsible suicide reporting; fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents; and early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of those with suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

The guidance highlights that in the social media age, media reports can prompt copycat suicides, especially when surrounding a celebrity. It calls for suicide coverage to be counteracted with articles highlighting successful recovery from mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts. It also recommends working with social media companies to increase awareness and remove harmful content.

Since half of all mental health conditions appear before children reach 14, WHO says, adolescence is a critical period.   Hence it encouraged anti-bullying programmes, support services and clear protocols for people working in schools when suicide risk is identified. (Source: WHO)

By Robin Gomes

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