23 February 2019
Factors that lead to suicide vary from country to country but these are often influenced by social, cultural, religious and economic circumstances, according to WHO. Photo: gospelcoalition
Factors that lead to suicide vary from country to country but these are often influenced by social, cultural, religious and economic circumstances, according to WHO. Photo: gospelcoalition

WHO: Suicide kills one person every 40 seconds

One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds and the number is 40 times higher in the worst affected countries, according to The Guardian,

The factors that cause extreme emotional distress are similar everywhere and there are measures governments can take to bring down the suicide rate, the report said, citing the first comprehensive report on the issue by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although suicide rates vary from country to country, these are all influenced by cultural, social, religious and economic factors, WHO said. 

The Geneva-based body estimates that there are at least 800,000 suicides a year.

But many countries do not collect good data, there is huge stigma and in a handful of nations suicide is still illegal, so it is highly likely the numbers are an underestimate, it said.

Criminalizing suicide does not prevent it. India, where it is illegal, has one of the higher suicide rates in the world at almost 21 deaths per 100,000 people against a global average of 11.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 and suicide rates increase in people older than 50.

It is more common in men than in women, although the disparity is greater in rich countries than in poorer ones. Three-quarters of suicides occur in low and middle-income countries, with higher numbers in central and eastern Europe and in Asia, the report said.

North Korea has a suicide rate of 39.5 per 100,000 people compared with South Korea’s 36.6 percent.

Catholic countries and those with large numbers of Muslims tend to have lower rates because of the opposition to suicide of their religion.

People experiencing conflict, abuse and isolation and those suffering discrimination such as refugees, migrants and those suffering prejudice because of their sexuality are all at increased risk.

For every death, there are many more people who try to kill themselves. Having attempted suicide is the biggest risk factor for dying by suicide at some point in the future. It is a clear cry for help that governments should pick up on, WHO said.

Whether it is a mental health crisis, financial desperation, the death of a child or the breakdown of a relationship that triggers the thought of suicide, there is still often an opportunity to stop it, it said.

“Suicidal tendencies are transitory,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, WHO director of the department of mental health and substance abuse and an author of the report.

“People who have an intense desire to commit suicide grab the nearest possible means. If you can restrict their access even for a few hours, you can save a lot of lives. People think about it and talk to people and decide not to do it.”

Most suicides take place in the early morning, perhaps after a sleepless night and before there is anybody around to talk to, or late at night when alcohol may play a part, the report said.

Other measures to prevent people easily getting access to the means of killing themselves have been adopted in other countries. Painkillers can only now be bought over the counter in limited quantities in Britain, for instance.

Some bridges have high fences. Where guns are legal and easily obtained as in the US, the suicide rate is high and firearms are the leading means, adding to the argument for gun control.

WHO said countries should have a national suicide prevention strategy, which must include reducing access to the means of suicide.

Also important are responsible reporting of suicides by the media to avoid the risk of inspiring copycat attempts, alcohol policies, care for people suffering from mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and emotional distress and the training of health workers in assessing and managing suicidal behaviour.

Only 28 countries say they have a national suicide prevention strategy, according to the report.

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