Marking day to prevent suicide, UN stresses that people of all ages can be at risk

Marking day to prevent suicide, UN stresses that people of all ages can be at risk

With one person taking their own life every 30 seconds, the United Nations is marking World Suicide Prevention Day today by appealing for bolstered efforts to stem suicide rates among people of all ages.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), 3,000 people kill themselves every day, and for every person who commits suicide, 20 or more may attempt it.

Statistics also show that in adults, suicide is a leading cause of death, accounting for more deaths than those resulting from wars and homicide. In short, “more human beings kill themselves than kill others each year,” said Brian Mishara, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), which has partnered with WHO to improve national responses to prevent suicide.

To raise awareness that suicide takes place across all people of all ages – children, adolescents, adults and the elderly – the theme of this year’s Day is “Suicide prevention across the Life Span.”

While progress has been made in curbing suicides among youth worldwide, suicide rates among young adolescents under the age of 15 have surged while the elderly rate remains high, especially among men in developed countries, Dr. Mishara told reporters in New York.

Addressing suicide among the elderly poses challenges, including “prejudices on the part of people in the health-care profession and other who feel that it’s normal to be unhappy, depressed or feeling down when you’re older,” he said.

“There’s phenomenal potential for preventing suicide among the elderly but generally very little attention is given to them,” but research shows that the elderly respond as well or better than other age groups to psychotherapy, Dr. Mishara noted.

Although suicide among children under the age of 15 does not account for a large proportion of all suicides, suicide among people between the ages of 15 and 24 is still a leading cause of death in young people in many countries.

Treating mental health problems is a significant component of preventing suicides, but Dr. Mishara pointed out that globally, one of the largest challenges faced is encouraging men – who commit suicide at a higher rate than women in many nations – to seek help for their problems. “They call less frequently to telephone helplines, they consult their family physicians less often for mental health problems and they less frequently go into psychotherapy and seek help from physicians,” he said.

In a joint press release, WHO and IASP called for a comprehensive approach – incorporating the education, labour, police, justice, religious, legal, political and media sectors – to promote effective suicide prevention.

“Fortunately, suicide is not an inevitable burden that must be accepted by society,” the agencies said.