The World’s Health Organisation (WHO) said Thursday one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, according to the first ever comprehensive report that was ever released on the issue. The report provides a global knowledge base on suicide and suicide attempts as well as actionable steps for countries based on their current resources and context to move forward in suicide prevention.
Suicide takes more lives than all the yearly victims of wars and natural disaster, and the WHO blamed intense media coverage when celebrities kill themselves for fuelling this huge problem.
“Suicide is an amazing public health problem. There is one suicide every 40 seconds – it is a huge number,” said Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s mental health department, at the presentation of the report in Geneva. “Suicide kills more than conflicts, wars and natural catastrophes,” she said. “There are 1.5 million violent deaths every year in the world, of which 800,000 are suicides.”
Some of the highest rates of suicide are found in Central and Eastern Europe and in Asia, with 25 percent occurring in rich countries, the report says.
“Globally, suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and over. In some countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young,” WHO said. “Notably, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally.”
Men are reportedly almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives. Common methods used are hanging, gunshots, and especially in rural areas, the use of poisonous insecticides. WHO is encouraging governments to take steps to make it much harder for people to obtain such toxic substances.
Moreover 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 the UK, for instance. Some bridges have high fences. Where guns are legal and easily obtained as in the U.S., the suicide rate is high and firearms are the leading means, adding to the arguments for gun control.
Ella Arensman, president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, said that after news broke of Williams’ death she received “five emails of people who had recovered (from a) suicide crisis and saying that they are thinking again about suicide”. “These overwhelming reports can have a contagion effect on vulnerable people,” she said, referring also to the “sharp increase” in suicides after German football player Robert Enke killed himself in 2009.
Only 28 countries say they have a national suicide prevention strategy at the current time.