Suicide kills one person every 40 seconds, says World Health Organization

Suicide kills one person every 40 seconds, says World Health Organization

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. (Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP)

LONDON: Across the world, one person takes their own life every 40 seconds, and more people die by suicide every year than in war, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday (Sep 9).

Hanging, poisoning and shooting are the most common suicide methods, the WHO said as it urged governments to adopt suicide prevention plans to help people cope with stress and to reduce access to suicide means.

READ: Suicides in Singapore up 10% last year, record high among boys

"Suicide is a global public health issue. All ages, sexes and regions of the world are affected (and) each loss is one too many," the WHO's report said.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 29, after road injury, and among teenage girls aged 15 to 19 it was the second biggest killer after maternal conditions. In teenage boys, suicide ranked third behind road injury and interpersonal violence.

Overall, close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year - more than are killed by malaria or breast cancer, or by war or homicide, the WHO said.

GLOBAL SUICIDE RATES

Global rates have fallen in recent years - with a 9.8 per cent decrease between 2010 and 2016 - but declines were patchy. In the WHO's Americas region, for example, rates rose by 6 per cent in between 2010 and 2016.

The global suicide rate in 2016 - the last year for which data was available - stood at 10.5 per 100,000 people.

But rates varied widely, with suicides in some countries as low as five per 100,000, while Guyana, which topped the scales, registered a rate of over 30 per 100,000.

Overall, the global suicide rate fell by nearly 10 per cent from 2010 to 2016, with the western Pacific showing declines of nearly 20 per cent and Southeast Asia registering a decline of only 4.2 per cent.

The Americas meanwhile was the only region that showed an uptick in suicides, with a six per cent hike over the six-year period.

"We know that in the region of the Americas, access to firearms and guns is an important means of suicide," Alexandra Fleischmann of WHO's mental health division, told reporters in Geneva in answer to a question.

The overall decline is explained by the fact that a number of countries - 38 in total - have put in place suicide prevention strategies, WHO said, stressing however that many more countries must follow suit.

"PREVENTABLE"

"Suicides are preventable," said the WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes."

The most common methods of suicide are hanging, gunshots and - especially in rural areas - the ingestion of poisonous pesticides.

The WHO said restricting access to pesticides was one of the most effective ways of reducing suicide numbers swiftly.

Pesticides are commonly used and usually result in death because they are so toxic, have no antidotes, and are often used in remote areas where there is no nearby medical help.

And in South Korea, a ban on the herbicide paraquat in 2011 and 2012 lead to the halving of suicides by pesticide poisoning between 2011 and 2013, it said.

The WHO pointed to studies in Sri Lanka, where bans on pesticides have led to a 70 per cent drop in suicides and an estimated 93,000 lives saved between 1995 and 2015.

Most suicides happen in low- and middle-income countries, where most of the global population lives, but rates are higher in wealthier countries, the WHO report found.

After Guyana, Russia registered the world's second-highest rate, with 26.5 suicides per 100,000 people.

Also figuring high on the list were Lithuania, Lesotho, Uganda, Sri Lanka, South Korea, India and Japan, as well as the United States, which registered 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people.

The report also found that nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide in wealthy countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rates are more equal.

Only in five countries - Bangladesh, China, Lesotho, Morocco, and Myanmar - do women commit suicide at a higher rate than men.

"VULNERABLE"

The WHO said it was launching a one-month campaign starting on World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, including the launch of a resource booklet for filmmakers.

It will warn of the dangers of graphic descriptions or depictions of suicide, which have been shown to trigger copycat suicides among people struggling with mental health issues.

In July, Netflix said it had removed a graphic suicide scene from the first season of hit show "13 Reasons Why", following concern from mental health experts who feared it glorified suicide.

Two studies published in May found that suicides among US youths rose significantly in the months following the popular show's release in 2017.

"The reasearch has shown over many years... that there are people who imitate, who are vulnerable," Fleischmann said.

Where to get help: Samaritans of Singapore operates a 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444, or you can email pat@sos.org.sg. You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Source: Agencies/ic

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