1 in 100 deaths is by suicide, but global rate falling: WHO

The Nation  |  Jun 18, 2021

One in 100 deaths worldwide is by suicide, and while the overall rate is falling, it is rising in the Americas, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, according to a report published Thursday titled "Suicide worldwide in 2019," with data before the COVID-19 pandemic, said the global health body, which wants to combat the trend.

"Every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer - or war and homicide," said the WHO.

In 2019, the latest figures available, more than 700,000 people died by suicide – one in every 100 deaths – prompting the WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.

"We cannot – and must not – ignore suicide," said Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.

"Our attention to suicide prevention is even more important now, after many months living with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide – job loss, financial stress and social isolation – still very much present."

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Male suicide rate double that of females

More than twice as many males die due to suicide as females – 12.6 per 100,000 males compared with 5.4 per 100,000 females.

Suicide rates among men are generally higher in high-income countries – 16.5 per 100,000 males.

For females, the highest suicide rates are found in lower-middle-income countries – 7.1 per 100,000.

Tedros said the WHO's new guidance provides a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts.

Among young people aged 15-29, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.

Suicide rates in the WHO African (11.2 per 100,000), European (10.5 per 100,000), and South-East Asia (10.2 per 100,000) regions were higher than the global average (9.0 per 100,000) in 2019.

The lowest suicide rate was in the Eastern Mediterranean region (6.4 per 100,000).

Globally, the suicide rate is decreasing, while in the Americas, it is going up.

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Suicide rates fell in the 20 years between 2000 and 2019, with the global rate decreasing by 36%.

Decreases ranged from 17% in the Eastern Mediterranean region to 47% in the European region and 49% in the Western Pacific.

"But in the Americas region, rates increased by 17% in the same period," said the WHO.

The global health body released a comprehensive guidance for combatting suicide that includes limiting access to the means of suicide, such as highly hazardous pesticides and firearms, and educating the media on responsible reporting of suicide.

It also recommends fostering socio-emotional life skills in adolescents and early identification, assessment, management, and follow-up of anyone affected by suicidal thoughts and behavior.

The WHO said banning the most dangerous pesticides is a high-impact intervention.

"Given that pesticide poisoning is estimated to cause 20% of all suicides, and national bans of acutely toxic, highly hazardous pesticides have shown to be cost-effective, such bans are recommended by WHO."

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Other measures include restricting access to firearms, reducing the size of medication packages, and installing barriers at jump sites, said the WHO.

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