Suicide kills one person every 40 seconds, says WHO

Last year, just a few days after Kate Spade tragically took her own life, celebrity chef and highly-praised travel journalist Anthony Bourdain followed suit. Many blamed the explicit and sensationalised reporting detailed in the media about luxury fashion designer Spade’s suicide to be one of the main causation factors that led to Bourdain’s death.

Sadly enough, these suicides aren’t isolated incidences. Across the world, one person takes his or her own life every 40 seconds, and more people die by suicide every year than in war, the World Health Organization said in September.

Hanging, poisoning and shooting are the most common suicide methods, the WHO said as it urged governments to adopt suicide prevention plans to help people cope with stress and to reduce access to suicide means.

“Suicide is a global public health issue. All ages, sexes and regions of the world are affected (and) each loss is one too many,” the WHO’s report said.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 29, after road injury, and among teenage girls aged 15 to 19 it was the second biggest killer after maternal conditions. In teenage boys, suicide ranked third behind road injury and interpersonal violence.

Overall, close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year – more than those killed by malaria or breast cancer, or by war or homicide, the WHO said. What’s more is that these figures are believed to be grossly under-reported.

The report also found that nearly three times as many men as compared to women die by suicide in wealthy countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rates are more equal.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2017, one out of five Malaysian adolescents is depressed, two out of five experienced anxiety, while 11.2% experienced “suicidal ideation” and 10.1% had attempted suicide – all issues that the BEFRIENDERS KL helpline has been working to address since 1970.

In many parts of the world, BEFRIENDERS, a non-profit organisation, has been instrumental in supporting individuals experiencing mental distress, and especially those harbouring suicidal ideations. Realistically, however, we cannot expect the BEFRIENDERS to shoulder the burden of one entire nation’s mental health and wellbeing. Resources and links to other crucial mental lifelines are scarce.

The ratio of psychiatrists to the Malaysian population is 1:200,000 (1:10,000 is recommended by WHO).  We need about 3,000 psychiatrists in order to achieve the ratio set by WHO but currently, Malaysia only has 360 of them registered in both government and private sectors.

“Suicides are preventable,” said the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programs.”

The first step should be a thorough review to decriminalise suicide. Perhaps the only “crime” or criminal culpability of individuals who attempt suicide are due to the fact that they are victims suffering from acute mental anguish or some form of mental illness, and it is very often, misunderstood or dismissed as attention-seeking, but it is far from that – as a matter of fact, it is a silent cry for help. And society ought to empathise with these individuals, offering or referring them to relevant professionals for help, and not further punish them.

As concurred by experts during the recently concluded Positive Parenting Media Dialogue held in Kuala Lumpur in mid September, which focused on combating depression, anxiety and addiction in children and teenagers, suicide falling into the threshold of a crime will only exacerbate matters further as those who attempt suicide will ensure that death is completed to avoid falling foul with the law.

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