UN agency seeks to curb 'huge but largely preventable' problem of suicide
“Suicide is a tragic global public health problem,” World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant-Director General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Catherine Le Galès-Camus said ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day being marked on Friday. “There is an urgent need for coordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll."
The agency has produced a series of guidelines for different audiences that have a critical role in suicide prevention, including health workers, teachers, prison officers, media professionals and survivors of suicide. It stressed early identification and treatment of mental disorders as an important preventive strategy.
The Director of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Benedetto Saraceno, underlined the role played by the media, citing evidence that coverage can encourage imitation suicides and urging sensitivity in reporting on “these tragic and frequently avoidable deaths.”
"The media can also play a major role in reducing stigma and discrimination associated with suicidal behaviours and mental disorders," he added.
Suicidal behaviour has a large number of complex underlying causes, including poverty, unemployment, loss of loved ones, arguments, breakdown in relationships and legal or work-related problems.
The most common methods are pesticides, firearms and medication, such as painkillers, according to WHO, which emphasized that availability of these means plays an important role in the phenomenon. “Having access to the means of suicide is both an important risk factor and determinant of suicide," said Professor Lars Mehlum, President of International Association for Suicide Prevention, a non-governmental organization collaborating with WHO on the issue.
One recent breakthrough was the move by many pharmaceutical companies to market painkillers in blister packs rather than more easily accessible bottles, which had a significant impact on their use as a suicide method, the agency said. Currently attention is focused on encouraging a reduction in access to pesticides, including safer storage and proper dilutions.