While either this sentence or the headline was read, a suicide occurred. While reading this article, approximately 30 people will have committed suicide. Those astounding facts were part of a World Health Organization (WHO) report and call for action released today to reduce the astounding global suicide rate.
More than 800,000 people a year take their own lives, according to WHO’s newly released report on suicide prevention. Using poison, hanging or weapons, one person ends their life every 40 seconds. Far more than war or any disease, suicide is a significant worldwide cause of death, which the WHO is pushing attention towards and trying to reduce by at least 10 percent through 2020. Acknowledging their call for action, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, urged that discussing suicide as a “public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long.”
The United Nations health organization report, which was issued before World Suicide Prevention Day next week (Sept. 10), notes that 75 percent of suicides take place in poor or middle-income nations. While suicides take place at almost any age, the WHO report notes that the highest rate globally is in people aged 70 years old or older, particularly in poorer areas. However, the vulnerable populations vary by socioeconomic factors. In richer countries, the highest rates of suicide are among the young, with suicide being the second leading cause of death worldwide in people aged 15 to 29.
Men take their own lived far more than women. In fact, the rate is three times as high for men in wealthier countries. Men over 50 year are particularly vulnerable in those areas.
Southeast Asia has the highest overall rate (calculated as X amount per 100,000 of population) of any geographic region. Guyana had the highest rate of any country in 2012. China was number two and the Republic of Korea had the third highest rate.
In higher income countries throughout the world, hanging is the mode used in 50 percent of suicides. However, in the Americas, 46 percent are done with firearms, which is only 4.5 percent of suicides in other wealthy areas. Suicide by ingesting pesticides is one of the most common methods employed, and of particular concern in rural agricultural areas in Africa.
The WHO is calling on government to set up national suicide prevention efforts. The report noted than only 28 countries have national plans and most of them are in Europe. Noting that regardless of where a country currently is on suicide prevention plans, effective measures can and should be taken, “even just starting at local level and on a small-scale,” according to Dr. Alexandra Fleischmann, a WHO scientist in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department.
The global health organization also expressed concerns about the social stigma of mental health issues and media coverage of suicides. The death of Hollywood actor Robin Williams was cited as an example. They specifically asked that media avoid describing methods used or other sensational details. While this article does talk about methods and the fact is that a suicide probably occurred while this was read, the WHO is using Suicide Prevention Month (September) and the upcoming World Suicide Prevention Day to shine a light on the startling size of the problem.
By Dyanne Weiss