Across the globe, a person kills themselves every 40 seconds, with pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms among the most common methods of suicide, according to a report released by the World Health Organization Thursday. More than 800 000 people die by suicide every year, with roughly 75 percent of suicides occurring in low and middle-income countries.
Reducing access to poison and firearms can help prevent suicide, according to the WHO report. Governments must also establish health care plans to treat suicide and depression. Only 28 countries currently have national suicide prevention strategies, WHO said. Men are more likely to die by suicide than women. People who have already attempted suicide are at the greatest risk.
"This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long," Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, said in a statement Thursday.
The estimated suicide rate is highest in Southeast Asia, with India reporting the most suicides in 2012, according to WHO. China had the second highest number of suicides and South Korea had the third highest rate. Six European country were among the top 20 countries with the highest estimated suicide rates, with Lithuania reporting the fifth highest and Kazakhstan the tenth rate highest globally.
Suicide rate were generally lower in North and South America compared with other regions, but hanging accounted for 50 percent of suicides in those nations. In Africa, suicide rates grew by 38 percent, WHO found.
Suicide rates are highest globally in people over 70 years. But young people are also vulnerable. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally, WHO said.
WHO doctors urged media organizations to report more responsibly on suicides by avoiding sensational language and explicit descriptions of how people kill themselves. Health workers must also do their part by identifying and managing mental and substance abuse disorders, WHO said.
“No matter where a country currently stands in suicide prevention, effective measures can be taken, even just starting at local level and on a small-scale," said Dr Alexandra Fleischmann, of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
In the United States, a national debate on suicide prevention and health care treatment was renewed last month when actor Robin Williams, 63, killed himself after battling severe depression. In 2009, the number of deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Risk factors for suicide include mental disorder such as alcoholism, depression, personality disorder or schizophrenia, and some physical illnesses, such as neurological disorders, cancer, and HIV infection, according to WHO.
The WHO report was released a week before World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10.