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WHO: One person dies every 40 seconds by suicide

Report says more than 800,000 people worldwide kill themselves each year

Friday, September 05, 2014    

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MORE than 800,000 people around the world die from suicide every year -- around one person every 40 seconds -- according to the World Health Organisation's (WHO's) first global report on suicide prevention, published yesterday. Some 75 per cent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

"Unfortunately, suicide all too often fails to be prioritised as a major public health problem," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Despite an increase in research and knowledge about suicide and its prevention, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persist, and often people do not seek help or are left alone. And if they do seek help, many health systems and services fail to provide timely and effective help."

Suicide occurs all over the world and can take place at almost any age. Globally, rates of suicide are highest in people aged 70 years and over. In some individual countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young. Notably, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds globally.

In the Americas, the average estimated suicide rate is 7.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is lower than in other WHO regions and lower than the global average of 11.4 per 100,000. However, Guyana has the highest estimated suicide rate for 2012 in the world, and Suriname has the sixth-highest. Data from the Americas show that suicide rates first peak among young people, remain at the same level for other age groups, and rise again among older men.

In general, more men die by suicide than women. In countries of the Americas, rates range two to six times higher for men than for women.

Pesticide poisoning is one of the most common methods of suicide, especially in low- and middle-income countries, and accounts for one-third of cases globally. The relatively high proportion of suicides by firearms in high-income countries is primarily driven by high-income countries in the Americas, where firearms account for 46 per cent of all suicides; in high-income countries outside the Americas, firearms account for only 4.5 per cent of suicides. Evidence shows that limiting access to the means of suicide can help prevent such deaths, as can a commitment by national governments to the establishment and implementation of coordinated plans of action.

"The most important message is that suicide can be prevented, especially if we identify people at risk and intervene early," said Dr Jorge Rodriguez, chief of the Mental Health Unit at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Regional Office for the Americas of WHO. People who have attempted suicide are at higher risk of attempting it again, he noted, making it important for health personnel to provide follow-up of such cases, with family and community support.

The new WHO report identifies a series of measures that can help prevent suicide, among them:

* creating national strategies for suicide prevention;

* restricting access to the most common means of suicide, including pesticides, firearms and certain medicines;

* providing medical follow-up for people who have attempted suicide;

* incorporating suicide prevention as a central component in health services

* identifying and treating mental health and substance abuse disorders as early as possible; and

* responsible reporting on suicide by the news media.

WHO's World Suicide Report "Preventing suicide: a global imperative" seeks to make suicide a top priority on the global public health agenda. The report's launch comes just a week before World Suicide Prevention Day, observed on September 10 each year to provide an opportunity for joint action to raise awareness about suicide and its prevention around the world.

Suicide prevention is a central goal of WHO's Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, which was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2013. The plan calls on countries to reduce their suicide rates by 10 per cent by the year 2020. A similar regional mental health action plan will be considered by health authorities from the Americas during the PAHO Directing Council from September 29 to October 3.

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