With at least 870,000 people killing themselves each year and 450 million others around the world affected by mental, neurological or behavioural problems at any given time, the United Nations today marked World Mental Health Day with calls for greater attention to be afforded to the causes and treatment of suicide.
“We are all deeply concerned, and rightly so, about deaths resulting from wars, homicide, terrorism and other forms of violence,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message. “Yet, deaths due to suicide, and the factors that can lead to it, do not receive nearly enough attention.
“There are about 1 million self-inflicted deaths each year. If we add to that the many attempted suicides, we can see the real scale of this public health problem and human tragedy – one which affects tens of millions of people,” he added.
Although one of the most important risk factors for suicide is the presence of a mental disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia, and there are efficient and affordable ways of dealing with these disorders, not everybody in need has access to treatment, he noted.
“Left untreated, mental illness can be fatal. One of the best ways of reducing the disastrous impact of suicide is to tackle, in a community environment, the mental disorders that are linked so closely to it,” Mr. Annan said.
Joining its voice to the appeal, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) noted that an estimated 873,000 people commit suicide every year, with suicide in some regions, constituting the third leading cause of death in the age group 15-35 years. Suicide is the leading cause of death for this age group in China and the second in the European region.
“All too often, suicide represents a tragic consequence of failing to diagnose and treat serious mental illness,” Acting WHO Director-General Anders Nordström said. “It requires a concerted public health response globally, nationally, and also from communities and families, to reduce suicide by reducing mental illness.”
WHO underscored the “huge gaps” in treatment and resources and called for mental health policy, plans and legislation to be integrated into national health systems.
“More than 90 per cent of all cases of suicide are associated with mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism,” Director of WHO’s Department of Mental Health Benedetto Saraceno said. “Therefore, reducing the global suicide rate means effectively addressing the serious and growing burden of mental illness around the world.”