Deconstructing the First WHO Suicide Report

  • Over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, around one person every 40 seconds. 
  • 75% of suicides occur in low and middle income countries, although the actual rate of suicide is greater in high-income countries. 
  • Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. 

In time for World Suicide Prevention Day, the World Health Organisation has released its first international suicide report, calling for large-scale strategic action to address a “global imperative”.

Its central advice is that all countries ought to have a national suicide strategy that focussed on restricting access to the ‘means for suicide’, equipping health services to better identify and respond to suicidal risk, and influencing culture to challenge stigma and increase ‘help-seeking behaviour’.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that the report divided nations by income, there is no substantial analysis around global socio-economic factors, or even why the suicide rate appears to be greater in high-income countries. Nor is there analysis of why so many young people should be suicidal.

The report steers clear of discussing current economic situations, unemployment levels, and global conflicts, despite each of these being strongly linked to suicide. Its recommendations are principally concerned with intervention at the point between suicidal ideation and the act of suicide, and not with prevention of suicidal ideation and related illnesses and conditions.

Necessarily, the report has to limit its focus. But in ignoring global events that may be increasing the risk of mental illness and suicide, the report seems to be in conflict with the whole-systems approach to health that the World Health Organisation has been advocating since the 1980s.

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