WHO Calls for Greater Suicide Prevention Strategies

September 10, 2014
Aimee Simone, Associate Editor

New report outlines suicide risks and prevention strategies to address high global suicide rates.

A recent report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 804,000 individuals worldwide committed suicide in 2012 and suspects that even more suicides go unreported each year.

Although suicides occur most often among those aged 70 years and older globally, the report found higher suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in some countries. Additionally, suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29 years worldwide.

According to the WHO report, suicides account for 50% of all violent deaths among men and 71% among women. Nevertheless, suicide rates among men are 3 times higher than rates among women in high-income countries, and 1.5 times higher in low- and middle-income countries.

These numbers, however, do not represent suicides that are unreported or reported incorrectly.

“For both suicides and suicide attempts, improved availability and quality of data from vital registration, hospital-based systems, and surveys are required for effective suicide prevention,” the report suggested.

In addition to improved reporting and data, the organization also suggested that identifying key risk factors could help prevent suicides. Overall, the most significant risk factor for suicide death is a previous suicide attempt, though other risk factors are associated with the health system and include difficulty accessing and receiving care, the stigma against patients who seek help for mental health or substance abuse problems, and the easy access to suicide means.

Additional risk factors occur on the community and individual level and include discrimination, abuse, violence, mental disorders, financial loss, chronic pain, and a family history of suicide.

To prevent deaths caused by suicide, the report recommended that national governments create prevention strategies that take various approaches to avoiding suicides, such as establishing crisis intervention services, creating media guidelines for reporting suicides, reducing stigmas, raising public awareness, and training health care workers, educators, and police.

“The strategy should be tailored to each country’s cultural and social context, establishing best practices and evidence-based interventions in a comprehensive approach,” the report stated.

Currently, only 28 countries have known national suicide prevention strategies.

The WHO also called upon health care professionals to help prevent suicide by providing follow-up care for patients who previously attempted suicide, as well as careful monitoring for those who might be at risk.

“To provide practical help, non-specialized health professionals are being used to improve assessment and management of suicidal behaviors, self-help groups of bereaved have been established in many places, and trained volunteers are helping with online and telephone counseling,” the report noted.