“I think suicide is sort of like cancer was 50 years ago. People don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to know about it. People are frightened of it, and they don’t understand, when actually these issues are treatable.” – Judy Collins. All of us play a role in both perpetuating the causes of- and preventing suicide. Every year on National Suicide Prevention Month in September, mental health advocates, survivors, friends and family, and mental health organizations across the country and around the world share their experiences and work towards eradicating this most tragic act.
Suicidal thoughts can plague anyone regardless of age, gender, or social status. Commonly linked to depression, there is no foolproof indicator of suicidal tendencies. Many people suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts cover them up quite well. Such was the case with beloved comedian Robin Williams, who committed suicide at the age of 63 in August 2014. Originally established in 1979 as a support group by family members of individuals diagnosed with mental illness, the National Alliance On Mental Illness is a United States-based organization that serves as a resource on this highly taboo topic. NAMI helps those affected by suicide, assists with sourcing effective treatment services, and raises awareness for educating others on its prevention.
More than 700 000 people die by suicide every year. For each suicide, there are likely more than 20 suicide attempts.
Suicide occurs throughout life. It was the fourth leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally in 2019.
Suicide occurs in all regions of the world. In fact, 77% of global suicides happen in low- and middle-income countries.
While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) and a previous suicide attempt is well established, particularly in high-income settings, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis. Further risk factors include experience of loss, loneliness, discrimination, a relationship break-up, financial problems, chronic pain and illness, violence, abuse, and conflict or other humanitarian emergencies.
Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.
Suicides are preventable. Much can be done to prevent suicide at individual, community and national levels.
The urgency to act to prevent suicides has been recognized and prioritized at the highest levels.
The reduction of suicide rates in countries is an indicator in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (the only indicator for mental health), WHO’s General Programme of Work and WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030.
The first WHO world suicide report, Preventing suicide: a global imperative, published in 2014, aims to increase the awareness of the public health significance of suicide and suicide attempts and to make suicide prevention a high priority on the global public health agenda.
The report also encourages and supports countries to develop or strengthen comprehensive national suicide prevention strategies in a multisectoral public health approach. National leadership and coordination on suicide prevention are further supported by the publication of National suicide prevention strategies: progress, examples and indicators and the implementation of effective interventions by LIVE LIFE.
Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at population, sub-population and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. LIVE LIFE, WHO’s approach to suicide prevention, recommends the following key effective evidence-based interventions:
These need to go hand-in-hand with the following foundational pillars: situation analysis, multisectoral collaboration, awareness raising, capacity building, financing, surveillance and monitoring and evaluation.
Suicide prevention efforts require coordination and collaboration among multiple sectors of society, including the health sector and other sectors such as education, labour, agriculture, business, justice, law, defence, politics, and the media. These efforts must be comprehensive and integrated as no single approach alone can make an impact on an issue as complex as suicide.
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