One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds — WHO

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One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds — WHO

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) – September 11, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly 800,000 persons die by suicide every year and it is the second leading cause of death among the youth, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, prompting the agency to call for action.

WHO’s latest global suicide estimates showed close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year, or one person every 40 seconds. For each death, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. 

The report said every year, suicide accounts for more deaths than war and homicide combined, and is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29, behind road injury.

Globally, 79 percent of suicides occur in low and middle-income countries. High-income countries, meanwhile, have the highest rates of suicide.

Incidents are three times higher among men than women in wealthier countries, while these rates are more equal in poorer nations.

Addressing causes, the UN health agency said the link between suicide and mental health is well-established in high-income countries, but “many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis.”

“Experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behavior” WHO said. Vulnerable groups who experience discrimination show higher rates of suicide and “by far, the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.”

The complex issue demands coordination across multiple sectors to boost prevention. Stigma surrounding mental disorders, lack of awareness of suicide as a major health problem and a taboo in many societies to openly discuss it, mean many people contemplating suicide are not getting adequate help.

WHO recommended better training of health workers and non-specialists in assessing and managing suicidal behavior in its guidelines for prevention, along with early treatment of mental health disorders, effective monitoring of alcohol and substance use, responsible reporting by the media, and reducing access to means of suicide.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues,” yet many more suicides can be prevented. All countries should “incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programs in a sustainable way.”

Pesticide poisoning, which the agency identified as a less-commonly used but tragically “highly effective strategy,” accounts for 20 percent of global suicides. Due to the high toxicity of many chemicals used in suicide attempts, this method often results in death.

The WHO mentioned how regulations of highly hazardous pesticides in Sri Lanka have cut suicides by 70 percent, saving an estimated 93,000 lives in a ten-year span. It also halved suicide deaths from poisoning in North Korea between 2011 and 2013.

WHO recognizes suicide as a “public health priority.” In 2008, the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme was launched as an evidence-based guide to scale up service for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

WHO’s action plan for 2013-2020 sets a global target of reducing suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020; in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which sets a target of cutting suicide rates by a third to 2030.