10 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE IN OBSERVANCE OF WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY


As the annual toll of people taking their own lives reached one million -- while decreasing in countries with national prevention programmes -- suicide had become a major preventable cause of death among young people, Brian Mishara, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, said this morning at a Headquarters press conference to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.


“We live in a world where we are preoccupied with wars, terrorist attacks and people killing other people,” Mr. Mishara said.  “Yet every year […] more people kill themselves than are killed in all wars, all terrorist attacks and all homicides, yet in many parts of the world, and generally, we pay relatively little attention to suicide prevention.”


Mr. Mishara, who was scheduled to lead a suicide prevention event at 1 p.m., was introduced by Werner Obermeyer, Senior External Relations Officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) New York Office.


“Think globally, plan nationally, act locally” was this year’s theme for suicide prevention, Mr. Obermeyer said, noting that countries which had instituted national policies following on WHO’s 1996 recommendation –- mainly in Europe -– had been experiencing lower rates of self-inflicted death.


Unfortunately, that was not the case elsewhere, Mr. Mishara said, pointing out that 60 per cent of suicides now occurred in Asia, with China, India and Japan accounting for 40 per cent.  Per capita rates were still highest in former Soviet States such as Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus and the Russian Federation.  Statistics were unavailable for much of Africa and unreliable in many other parts of the world owing to the stigma associated with suicide.


Although suicide was a universal phenomenon, its causes and methods differed greatly, and prevention policies had to be determined on a country-by-country basis, he continued.  In Asia, for example, family tensions were a more prevalent cause than clinical depression, which accounted for 90 per cent of suicides in the West.  Similarly, ingestion of pesticides was the method used in one third of Asian suicides, while it was rare in the West.


However, all suicides resulted from the feeling that life was too painful to bear, and that such pain was inevitable, with no solutions, Mr. Mishara stressed, emphasizing also that in all cases suicide was preventable.  Prevention strategies, however, differed according to causes and methods and ranged from counselling people through crisis to treating mental illness to locking up pesticides.


The International Association for Suicide Prevention, in conjunction with WHO and other entities, continued to promote awareness and formulating national prevention strategies, he said.  Other initiatives included the dissemination of new media guidelines for reporting on suicide, which often had great influence.  In Hong Kong, for example, charcoal-burning had become the number one suicide method after being widely reported in the media.


In addition to events at United Nations Headquarters to mark Suicide Prevention Day, activities were also taking place all over the world, he said.  They included rock concerts, survivor awareness events, seminars and training for service providers.


Alongside the sponsoring International Association for Suicide Prevention, WHO and other partners advocate for the prevention of suicidal behaviour, the provision of adequate treatment and follow-up care for people who attempt suicide, and responsible reporting of suicides in the media.


The theme for this year, at the global level, calls for raising awareness that suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death.  Governments need to develop policy frameworks for national suicide-prevention strategies.  At the local level, policy statements and research outcomes must be translated into prevention programmes and community activities.


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For information media • not an official record