Suicide Every 40 Seconds Requires Prevention Measures

A death by suicide occurs every 40 seconds somewhere in the world, the World Health Organization said in its first global report calling for more suicide prevention strategies.

About three-quarters of those suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries, where self-poisoning by pesticide is the leading cause, and other common methods include hanging and firearms, the WHO said.

Suicides of famous people such as comedian Robin Williams have called attention to risk factors such as depression. Still, while prevention strategies have been established in many high-income countries over the last decade, more need to be devised in the developing world, Rory O’Connor, who leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, said in a telephone interview.

“This report is long overdue,” said O’Connor, who was consulted by the WHO as an expert reviewer of the report. “What we need, especially in lower- and middle-income countries, is to encourage politicians and people in positions of power to start developing these strategies.”

Interventions should include policies to promote mental health, reduce harmful use of alcohol, improve access to health care, and restrict access to methods of suicide, the WHO said.

While programs in countries such as Japan, Switzerland and Scotland can serve as examples, each strategy must be tailored to each country and be sensitive to cultural differences, O’Connor said.

Still, these measures ignore broader questions of what is driving people to take their own lives, said David Lester, a professor of psychology and suicide expert at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

“How are we making our citizens so miserable, depressed, feeling that life is meaningless?” Lester said by e-mail. “The high rates of drug use, depression and suicide demand a much more profound discussion of what is wrong with society today.”

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