UN agency calls for broader understanding of problems that lead to suicide

10 September 2008

The United Nations marked World Suicide Prevention Day today with a call for everyone to better understand why a growing number of people feel compelled to kill themselves, as statistics show an average of one million people take their lives every year.

The United Nations marked World Suicide Prevention Day today with a call for everyone to better understand why a growing number of people feel compelled to kill themselves, as statistics show an average of one million people take their lives every year.

Suicide rates have increased worldwide by 60 per cent over the last 50 years, and the increase has been particularly marked in developing countries, with most of the world’s deaths occurring in Asia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Three countries alone – China, India and Japan – may account for four out of every 10 suicides.

“Suicide death is one of the largest categories of preventable deaths in the world today,” Werner Obermeyer, Senior External Relations Officer with WHO, told journalists at a press conference in New York.

“The rates have been increasing, particularly among young people… so it is a growing concern to WHO and our partners throughout the world,” he added.

There is a growing awareness of suicide as a major public health problem, the agency stressed, even though there is a taboo in many societies against discussing it openly. WHO is working with partners, such as the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), in an effort to rid suicide of its stigma.

“More people kill themselves than are killed in all wars, all terrorist attacks and all homicides. Yet in many parts of the world… we do not pay as much attention [and] we pay little attention to suicide prevention,” IASP President Brian Mishara said.

Mr. Mishara explained that despite the very specific cultural differences around the world in the means of suicide, the problem of suicide is fairly universal.

“People kill themselves because they experience generally psychological pain and they feel that this pain is intolerable and inevitable,” he said.

In Western countries up to 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health problem. However, in Asia or in poor and middle income countries less than 50 per cent have a diagnosable health problem. In these countries suicides more often occur in situations of conflict or stress or problems within a family.

The results of a WHO-backed programme in China, India and Sri Lanka focusing on deterring self-poisoning with pesticides – which accounts for 60 per cent of suicides in many rural areas in China and South-East Asia and one-third of suicide deaths worldwide – have been promising, according to the agency.

Mr. Mishara said the suicides involving pesticides tend to be based on impulse, and the project has involved storing pesticides more securely so that they are less easily accessible to people in times of stress.

“By building networks and alliances like the project in China and South-East Asia which support governments in planning and implementing their national responses, we will find that suicide is a largely preventable public health problem,” WHO said in its statement.

 

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