‘Now is the time to act,’ UN urges on release of first global report on suicide prevention

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). UN Photo/Loey Felipe

4 September 2014 – More than 800,000 people commit suicide every year – around one person every 40 seconds – according to the United Nations health agency’s first global report on suicide prevention, which was published today.

“This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report also notes that the most common methods of suicide globally are pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms. Evidence from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and a number of European countries reveals that limiting access to these means can help prevent people dying by suicide.

Another key to reducing deaths by suicide is a commitment by national Governments to the establishment and implementation of a coordinated plan of action, WHO said in a news release. Currently, only 28 countries are known to have national suicide prevention strategies.

Among the other findings if the report, which brings together 10 years of research from around the world, is that suicide can take place at almost any age. Globally, suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and over. In some countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young. Notably, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally in people between the ages of 15 and 29.

Generally, the report pointed out, more men die by suicide than women. In richer countries, three times as many men die by suicide than women. Men aged 50 years and over are particularly vulnerable.

Also, some 75 per cent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Young adults and elderly women in these countries have higher rates of suicide than their counterparts in high-income countries. Women over 70 years of age are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than women aged between 15 and 29 years.

In addition to limiting access to means of suicide, the report said that other effective measures to reduce deaths include responsible reporting of suicide in the media, such as avoiding language that sensationalizes suicide and avoiding explicit description of methods used.

Early identification and management of mental and substance use disorders in communities and by health workers in particular are also recommended.

WHO added that follow-up care by health workers through regular contact, including by phone or home visits, for people who have attempted suicide, together with provision of community support, are essential, because people who have already attempted suicide are at the greatest risk of trying again.

“This report, the first WHO publication of its kind, presents a comprehensive overview of suicide, suicide attempts and successful suicide prevention efforts worldwide. We know what works. Now is the time to act,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The report’s launch comes just a week before World Suicide Prevention Day, observed on 10 September every year. The Day provides an opportunity for joint action to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention around the world.


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