Better strategy needed to curb suicides - GulfToday

Better strategy needed to curb suicides

Better strategy needed to curb suicides

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Nearly 800,000 people commit suicide each year — more than those killed by war and homicide or breast cancer — according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and it is a clear indication that a concerted, swift global action is essential to avert the avoidable tragedies.

The UN health agency’s assertion that the global suicide rate had fallen somewhat between 2010 and 2016 offers little consolation, as the number of deaths has remained stable because of a growing global population.

It is tragic that despite progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide. As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus points out, every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues.

The global suicide rate in 2016 -- the last year for which data was available — stood at 10.5 per 100,000 people.

Since WHO’s first report on the issue was filed in 2014, the number of countries with national suicide prevention strategies has increased, and now stands at 38. However, this participation is still far too few and governments need to commit to establishing them.

Distressingly, for every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide every year. A prior suicide attempt is said to be the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population.

Stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide are not seeking help and are therefore not getting the help they need.

The prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to a lack of awareness of suicide as a major public health problem and the taboo in many societies to openly discuss it.

Early identification and management of mental and substance use disorders in communities and by health workers in particular will go a long way in tackling the serious problem.

Available data reflects the global trend. The most common methods of suicide are hanging, gunshots and — especially in rural areas — the ingestion of poisonous pesticides.

Most suicides happen in low- and middle-income countries, where most of the global population lives, but rates are higher in wealthier countries.

After Guyana, Russia registered the world›s second-highest rate, with 26.5 suicides per 100,000 people.

Also figuring high on the list were Lithuania, Lesotho, Uganda, Sri Lanka, South Korea, India and Japan, as well as the United States, which registered 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people.

It is also sad to note that young people are especially vulnerable: More than half of all those who commit suicide are under the age of 45.

Limiting access to pesticides can be hugely helpful. As per the WHO report, in Sri Lanka, regulations and bans on pesticides led to a 70 per cent fall in suicides between 1995 and 2015, resulting in 93,000 lives saved.

WHO rightly recognises suicide as a public health priority. As experts emphasise, though suicide is a serious public health problem, they are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions. For national responses to be effective, a comprehensive multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy is needed.

In addition to limiting access to means of suicide, experts suggest that other effective measures to reduce deaths include responsible reporting of suicide in the media, such as avoiding language that sensationalises suicide and avoiding explicit description of methods used.

Raising community awareness and breaking down the taboo is important for countries to make progress in preventing suicide.