Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. Behind these statistics are the individual stories of those who have, for many different reasons, questioned the value of their own lives.
Each one of these individuals is part of a community. Some may be well linked in to this community, and have a network of family, friends and work colleagues or school mates. Others may be less well connected, and some may be quite isolated. Regardless of the circumstances, communities have an important role to play in supporting those who are vulnerable.
This sentiment is reflected in the theme of the 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day: ‘Take a minute, change a life.’ As members of communities, it is our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference.
Taking a minute can change a life
People who have lived through a suicide attempt have much to teach us about how the words and actions of others are important. They often talk movingly about reaching the point where they could see no alternative but to take their own life, and about the days, hours and minutes leading up to this. They often describe realising that they did not want to die but instead wanted someone to intervene and stop them. Many say that they actively sought someone who would sense their despair and ask them whether they were okay.
Sometimes they say that they made a pact with themselves that if someone did ask if they were okay, they would tell them everything and allow them to intervene. Sadly, they often reflect that no one asked.
The individuals telling these stories are inspirational. Many of them recount reaching the point where they did try to take their own lives, and tell about coming through it. Many of them are now working as advocates for suicide prevention. Almost universally, they say that if someone had taken a minute, the trajectory that they were on could have been interrupted.
Life is precious and sometimes precarious. Taking a minute to reach out to someone – a complete stranger or close family member or friend – can change the course of their life.
No one has to have all the answers
People are often reluctant to intervene, even if they are quite concerned about someone. There are many reasons for this, not least that they fear they will not know what to say. It is important to remember, however, that there is no hard and fast formula. Individuals who have come through an episode of severe suicidal thinking often say that they were not looking for specific advice, but that compassion and empathy from others helped to turn things around for them and point them towards recovery.
Another factor that deters people from starting the conversation is that they worry that they may make the situation worse. Again, this hesitation is understandable; broaching the topic of suicide is difficult and there is a myth that talking about suicide with someone can put the idea into their head or trigger the act.
The evidence suggests that this is not the case. Being caring and listening with a non-judgemental ear are far more likely to reduce distress than exacerbate it.
Resources are available
There are various well-established resources that are designed to equip people to communicate effectively with those who might be vulnerable to suicide. Mental Health First Aid, for example, is premised on the idea that many people know what to do if they encounter someone who has had a physical health emergency, like a heart attack (dial an ambulance, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation), but feel out of their depth if they are faced with someone experiencing a mental or emotional crisis. Mental Health First Aid teaches a range of skills, including how to provide initial support to someone in these circumstances. There are numerous other examples too; relevant resources can be found on the websites of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (https://www.iasp.info/resources) and the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int).
Join in on World Suicide Prevention Day
2017 marks the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day. The day was first recognised in 2003, as an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and endorsed by the World Health Organization. World Suicide Prevention Day takes place each year on September 10.
On September 10, join with others around the world who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Show your support by taking part in our Cycle Around the Globe campaign aimed at raising awareness through community action. Find out what local activities have been scheduled as well – or initiate one yourself!
Finally, if there is anyone you are concerned about, take a minute to check in with them. It could change their life.
Ride with us! World Suicide Prevention Day – Cycle Around the Globe: https://goo.gl/DFZCE3
Click hereto order World Suicide Prevention Day lapel pins!
World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) is an awareness day observed on 10 September every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world since 2003. The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), collaborates with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation for Mental Health, to host World Suicide Prevention Day. In 2011 an estimated 40 countries held awareness events to mark the occasion. The United Nations issued 'National Policy for Suicide Prevention' in the 1990s which some countries use as a basis for their assisted suicide policies.
As of recent WHO releases, challenges represented by social stigma, the taboo to openly discuss suicide, and low availability of data are still to date obstacles leading to poor data quality for both suicide and suicide attempts: "given the sensitivity of suicide – and the illegality of suicidal behaviour in some countries – it is likely that under-reporting and misclassification are greater problems for suicide than for most other causes of death."
Suicide has a number of complex and interrelated and underlying contributing factors ... that can contribute to the feelings of pain and hopelessness. Having access to means to kill oneself – most typically firearms, medicines and poisons – is also a risk factor.
— Campaign release
See also: Suicide Prevention, Suicide, and Epidemiology of suicide
As of 2011[update], an estimated one million people per year die by suicide or "a death every 40 seconds or about 3,000 every day." According to WHO there are twenty people who have a failed suicide attempt for every one that is successful, at a rate approximately one every three seconds. Suicide is the "most common cause of death for people aged 15 – 24." As of 2008, the WHO refers the widest number of suicides occur in the age group 15 - 29, while the lowest in the 80+ although representing as well the one with the highest rate (per 100,000) of all age groups, with 27.8 suicides and 60.1 for females and males respectively. On average, three male suicides are reported for every female one, consistently across different age groups and in almost every country in the world. "Conversely, rates of suicide attempts tend to be 2-3 times higher in women than in men, although the gender gap has narrowed in recent years."
More people die from suicide than from murder and war; it is the 13th leading cause of death worldwide. According to WHO, suicide accounts for nearly half of all violent deaths in the world. Brian Mishara, IASP president, noted that, "more people kill themselves than die in all wars, terrorist acts and interpersonal violence combined." However, in spite of this, Mental health issues such as depression is a contributing factor towards people committing suicide. The number of people who die by suicide is expected to reach 1.5 million per year by 2020.
As of 2015 and (at least) since 2008, about one person in 10,000 dies by suicide every year (1.4% of all deaths), with reported rates (per 100,000) of 10.7 and 11.6 respectively.
The UN noted that suicide bombers' deaths are seen as secondary to their goal of killing other people or specific targets and the bombers are not otherwise typical of people committing suicide.
According to a WHO press release, one third of worldwide suicides were committed with pesticides, "some of which were forbidden by United Nations (UN) conventions." WHO urges Asian countries to restrict pesticides that are commonly used in failed attempts, especially organophosphate-based pesticides that are banned by international conventions but still made in and exported by some Asian countries. From 1996–2006 pesticide ingestion accounted for an estimated 60–90 percent of suicides in China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad. WHO reports an increase in pesticide suicides in other Asian countries as well as Central and South America. It is estimated that such painful failed attempts could be reduced by legalizing controlled voluntary euthanasia options, as implemented in Switzerland.
As of 2017, it is estimated that around 30% of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries.
Main article: List of countries by suicide rate
Of the 34 member countries of the OECD, a group of mostly high-income countries that uses market economy to improve the Human Development Index, South Korea had the highest suicide rate in 2009. In 2011 South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare enacted legislation coinciding with WSPD to address the high rate.
Focus of the WSPD is the fundamental problem of suicide, considered a major public health issue in high-income and an emerging problem in low and middle-income countries.
In 1999, death by self-inflicted injuries was the fourth leading cause of death among aged 15-44, in the world. In a 2002 study it's reported the countries with the lowest rates tend to be in Latin America, "Muslim countries and a few Asian countries" and noted a lack of information from most African countries.
In some countries, such as China, young people 15–34 years old were more likely to die by suicide than by any other means in 2008, especially young chinese women in rural places because of "arguments about marriage".
According to WHO, in 2009 the four countries with the highest rates of suicide were all in Eastern Europe; Slovenia had the fourth highest rate preceded by Russia, Latvia, and Belarus. This stays within findings from the start of the WSPD event in 2003 when the highest rates were also found in Eastern European countries.
Main article: Gender paradox in suicide
With the exception of China (almost one fifth of world population) and Bangladesh (two percent of world population), suicide rates are higher among men than women. Because of changing traditional gender roles, western countries (referred to those with a direct relation to Western European ones, and including these) report higher male mortality by suicide than any other, while Asian the lowest: according to most recent data provided by WHO, about 40,000 females of the global three hundred thousand female suicides and 150,000 males of the global half million male suicides, deliberately take their own life in Europe and the Americas (less than thirty percent of world population) every year.
Even though women are more prone to suicidal thoughts than men, rates of suicide are higher among men. On average, there are about three male suicides for every female one – though in parts of Asia, the ratio is much narrower.(WHO, 2002)
Due to traditional gender roles, in China women are 30% more likely than men to commit suicide, while in the rest of South Asia male mortality is around global average of 1.7 (men being around 70% more likely than women to die by suicide). In the rest of the world men are about 300% more likely, with a few countries (counting more than one hundred million residents overall) exceeding well over the 600% figure. Per recent data (2015), most considerable difference in male–female suicide ratios is noted in countries of the former Soviet Bloc and some in Latin America.
"The disparity in suicide rates has been partly explained by the use of more lethal means and the experience of more aggression and higher intent to die, when suicidal, in men than women". Some suicide reduction strategies do not recognize the separate needs of males and females. Studies have found that because young females are at a higher risk of attempting suicide, policies tailored towards this demographic are most effective at reducing overall rates. Researchers have also recommended aggressive long-term treatments and follow up for males that show indications of suicidal thoughts. Shifting cultural attitudes about gender roles and norms, and especially ideas about masculinity, may also contribute to closing the gender gap.
- 2003 – "Suicide Can Be Prevented!"
- 2004 – "Saving Lives, Restoring Hope"
- 2005 – "Prevention of Suicide is Everybody's Business"
- 2006 – "With Understanding New Hope"
- 2007 – "Suicide prevention across the Life Span"
- 2008 – "Think Globally, Plan Nationally, Act Locally"
- 2009 – "Suicide Prevention in Different Cultures"
- 2010 – "Families, Community Systems and Suicide"
- 2011 – "Preventing Suicide in Multicultural Societies"
- 2012 – "Suicide Prevention across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope"
- 2013 – "Stigma: A Major Barrier to Suicide Prevention"
- 2014 – "Light a candle near a Window"
- 2015 – "Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives"
- 2016 – "Connect, Communicate, Care"
- 2017 - "Take a Minute, Change a Life"
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