06 March 2008

Suicide kills more than wars

While death from war, terrorism and homicide crowd the headlines, at more than a million deaths per year suicide outstrips them all, but gets scant attention, an expert warned.

While death from war, terrorism and homicide crowd the headlines, at more than a million deaths per year suicide outstrips them all, but gets scant attention, an expert warned.

The president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), Brian Mishara, said with global suicide rates on a steady rise in recent decades, societies must commit more resources to help bring the numbers down.

"There are more than one million people who die by suicide each year in the world, which is more people than those who die from war, terrorist attacks and homicides every year," said Mishara. "So more people kill themselves than are killed by other people."

Global suicide rates have increased by 60 percent over the last 50 years, to about 28 male and seven female suicides per 100 000 people, with a marked increase in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

'Suicide problem ignored by society'
"Suicide has existed for as long as we have records of human history" and occurs among the rich and the poor, said Mishara, a University of Quebec psychology professor.

"Most societies don't pay much attention to suicide," he said, but stressed that countries that have invested heavily in its prevention have seen their rates drop. In the United States the rates have been going down reasonably and we would like to think that it is because the government has invested in suicide prevention."

Elsewhere, many people wind up as mere statistics receiving scant attention from governments that are not committing enough resources to prevention, but also in part because suicides are often recorded as violent murders or accidents.

The problem is especially tragic because it is largely preventable, Mishara said.

Men more prone to suicide
Worldwide, more men take their own lives than do women, although a notable exception is in China, Mishara said. Uruguay, where Mishara was visiting ahead of the IASP's 25th World Congress on Suicide Prevention next year in Montevideo, has one of the highest suicide rates in the Americas, at 24.5 male and 6.4 female suicides per 100 000.

The world's highest suicide rates are in the countries of the former Soviet Union, where alcohol "plays an important role in those countries." When the price of vodka spiked, he said, suicide rates dropped. Alcohol or drugs play a role in fully half of all suicides, he noted.

Lithuania posts 70.1 male and 14.0 female suicides per 100 000, while Russia has rates of 61.6 and 10.7, according to the WHO.

Another factor is that such countries have undergone extreme changes. "Even though many people have benefited from those changes, many people still feel left behind," Mishara said. "People don't kill themselves because they want to die," he added.

"People kill themselves because they can not see any hope to feel better in the future." – (Sapa)

March 2008

Read more:
Men more prone to suicide
Doctors miss suicide signs


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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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