WHO calls for coordinated action to prevent suicides
More than 800,000 people die by suicide
every year – around one person every 40
seconds, according to the World Health
Organization’s first global report on suicide
prevention, published 4 September 2014.
Some 75% of suicides occur in low- and
Pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms
are among the most common methods of
suicide globally. 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. Currently,
only 28 countries are known to have
national suicide prevention strategies.
Suicide is a global phenomenon
Suicide occurs all over the world and 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 in 15-29
“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
World Health Organization (WHO).
Generally, 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
In low- and middle-income countries,
young adults and elderly women have
higher rates of suicide than their
counterparts in high-income countries.
Women over 70 years old are more than
twice as likely to die by suicide than
women aged 15-29 years.
Suicides are preventable
Reducing access to means of suicide is
one way to reduce deaths. Other effective
measures include responsible reporting
of suicide in the media, such as avoiding
language that sensationalizes suicide
and avoiding explicit description of
methods used, and early identification and
management of mental and substance use
disorders in communities and by health
workers in particular.
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.
“No matter where a country currently
stands in suicide prevention,” said Dr
Alexandra Fleischmann, Scientist in
the Department of Mental Health and
Substance Abuse at WHO, “effective
measures can be taken, even just starting
at local level and on a small-scale”.
WHO recommends countries involve
a range of government departments in
developing a comprehensive coordinated
response. High-level commitment is
needed not just within the health sector,
but also within education, employment,
social welfare and judicial departments.
“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 the Department of Mental
Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.
The report’s launch came 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.
Working towards a global target
In the WHO Mental Health Action Plan
2013-2020, WHO Member States have
committed themselves to work towards the global target of reducing the suicide
rate in countries by
10% by 2020. WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme,
launched in 2008, includes suicide prevention as a priority and
provides evidence-based technical guidance to expand service
provision in countries.
Suicide in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
Commenting on the report, Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional
Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said that estimated suicide
rates are generally lower in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean
Region compared to other WHO regions.
“Religious and socio-cultural norms about suicidal behaviour
may explain to some extent why reported suicide mortality rates
are lower in this region than in other regions,” he said.
However, there is evidence that among certain age groups in this
region, suicide rates are relatively high, particularly among young
women and men aged 15-29 years, and women and men aged 60
years and above.
Dr Alwan pointed out that suicide is often the result of a series
of events and factors over the course of a person’s life rather than
the result of a single event or factor.
He said there was much that could be done to prevent suicide.
“First and foremost, policy and legislative actions are needed,”
Dr Alwan said.
“Side-by-side with these, there is a need to raise
public and professional awareness of suicide as a public health
problem, so that space for rational discussion and action for suicide
prevention is enhanced.”
Strategies involving restriction of access to common methods
of suicide, such as firearms or toxic substances like pesticides;
prevention and treatment of depression and alcohol and substance
abuse; and follow-up contact with those who have attempted
suicide have proven effective in reducing suicide rates.
“It is essential that we improve the reliability of suicide
certification and reporting, to craft the needed strategies and
The need is especially important now because a number of
countries in the region are experiencing acute humanitarian
emergencies which can contribute to a surge in suicide rates.
can be due prolonged exposure to adverse living conditions, which
increases vulnerability to mental disorders as well as a reduction
in the capacity of health and social institutions to provide support
when needed most.
WHO report: Preventing suicide: a global imperative
of upload: 14th Nov 2014