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Suicide Kills One Person Every 40 Seconds Around The World, More Than Natural Disasters And Wars

05/09/2014 15:06 BST | Updated 05/09/2014 15:59 BST

One person kills themselves every 40 seconds, according to the first global report on suicide prevention.

Suicide kills more people than conflicts and natural disasters, according to the landmark research from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The situation is a “major public health problem” which is shrouded in taboo, and only 28 countries out of nearly 200 have a government strategy for preventing suicide.

depression man

A tribute to Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams who took his life last month

Suicide accounts for 56% of all violent deaths globally, and an estimated 804,000 suicides occurred around the world in 2012, the study said.

Nearly 6,000 of these were of people aged 15 and over in the UK, according to Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, a slight drop from the previous year.

The real number of worldwide suicides could in fact be far higher, as it is not reported well in some countries and is illegal in others.

Even in places where reporting is good, suicide is often misclassified as an accident or another cause of death, the WHO report said.

The UK suicide rate was 11.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2012, according to the ONS, slightly above the global average of 11.4 people in the WHO report.

Suicide was recently the subject of global attention after actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life last month, leading to discussions over taboos around depression and the dangers of sensational media reports.

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Suicide affects all ages, the research found. Rates of suicide are highest for people over 70 almost everywhere in the world, but suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15−29-year-olds globally.

Suicide is dramatically more common for men than women. Globally, nearly twice as many males commit suicide as females, and the gender gap is even more marked in richer countries like the UK, where three times more men than women die from suicide.

Male suicide rates were more than three times higher than female rates in the UK in 2012, at 18.2 male deaths compared with 5.2 female deaths per 100,000 people.

The follows a long-term trend: men aged 30 to 44 have consistently had the highest suicide rates in the UK over the last 10 years.

robin williams

Williams: the much-loved performer died in August 2014

The WHO report found that globally, suicides account for 50% of all violent deaths in men and 71% in women.

Wealth is a key indicator or a country’s suicide rates: three quarters of all suicides take place in countries with low and middle levels of income.

Dr Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, said: “Unfortunately, suicide all too often fails to be prioritised as a major public health problem.

“Despite an increase in research and knowledge about suicide and its prevention, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persist and often people do not seek help or are left alone.

“And if they do seek help, many health systems and services fail to provide timely and effective help. Yet, suicides are preventable.”

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She called for communities to fight against stigma against people who seek help for suicidal behaviours or for mental health and drug problems.

Many countries have decriminalised suicide over the last 50 years, which the report said has made it much easier for people with suicidal behaviours to seek help.

The WHO called on health ministers around the world to help stop the thousands of preventable deaths by creating strategies and taking steps like restricting access to the most common means of suicide: pesticides, firearms and some medications.

“Restricting access to the means for suicide works,” the report said. The more important risk factor for suicide is a prior suicide attempt.

Other risk factors include difficulties in accessing health care and media reporting which sensationalises suicide and has been found to increase the risk of “copycat” suicides.

depression man

Suicide is fare more common for men than for women

Communities need to support people who are experiencing suicidal behavior by fighting stigma and supporting those who attempt suicide or who lose a loved one, the report stated.

Better data on suicides through death registration, hospital information and surveys is also needed, said the report.

In the UK, the median registration delay for suicides in 2012 was 155 days in England and Wales, and 144 days in Northern Ireland. But in Scotland, the time taken to register a death never exceeded the allocated eight days.

Catherine Johnstone, the chief executive of the UK suicide charity Samaritans, said: "A global perspective highlights the need to address the wider context of suicidal behaviour, for example geographic location, cultural factors and economic conditions, in addition to the key influence of mental ill-health.

At country level, this means considering influences such as deprivation and the extent of community ties."

If you've been affected by the issues in this article, please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.