WHO: Suicide fourth cause of death among young people

Suicide fourth cause of death among young people

Every year, about 703,000 people take their own lives and many more attempt suicide. An unsuccessful suicide attempt is an individual risk factor.

The World Health Organization (WHO) published last month some facts and figures on the statistics of suicide, its causes and how to prevent this situation that every year, is the cause of death of about 703,000 people.

Among the figures it highlights that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29 years and that 77% of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

They add that while the link between suicide and mental disorders (depression and alcohol consumption) is well documented, there are also cases in first world countries of people impulsively ending their lives during crisis situations (economic problems, relationship breakdowns or chronic pain and illness).

They claim that experiencing conflicts, catastrophes, violence, abuse, loss of loved ones and feelings of isolation can lead to suicidal behavior.

Suicide rates are also high among vulnerable groups, such as refugees, migrants; indigenous people; people from the LGBTQ+ community.

Notably, the report reveals that by far the main risk factor is a previous failed attempt.

Prevention and control

The WHO has developed a guide to prevent suicide called LIVE LIFE («Vive la vida») in which they recommend based on figures:

1-.  Restrict access to the means used to commit suicide (e.g., pesticides, firearms, and certain medications).
2-.  Educate the media to report responsibly on suicide.
3-.  Develop social-emotional life skills in adolescents.
4-.  Early detection, assessment, treatment and follow-up of individuals exhibiting suicidal behavior.

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Taboos on the subject

It is noted that stigmatization, especially that created around mental disorders and suicide, discourages many people who think about taking their own lives from seeking help and therefore do not receive the help they need.

In this regard, LearningToLive consulted psychologist Haydn Ricardo Roldán, a specialist in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, who explained that in recent years, consultations of adolescents with problems of self-harm and suicide attempts have increased in his office in the city of Bogotá, Colombia.

She explained that when a person suffers from emotional dysregulation, in any situation such as nerves before taking a school exam, a breakup or a parent’s scolding, he or she responds with high levels of anxiety, which, when combined with the lack of skills to regulate the emotions, can lead to a lack of self-control, combined with the lack of skills to regulate their emotions leads them to external regulation or relief behaviors such as cutting their skin, pulling out their hair, hitting the wall with their fist, among other types of self-injury, which generate strong physical pain, with which they seek to forget or overcome the emotional tension of the moment.

He added that another common mechanism of external regulation of feelings is the ingestion of food, “it has happened to many of us that we are nervous or anxious and we look for something to eat,” he described.

What to do:

When consulted about possible actions the psychologist suggests keeping an open communication at home, knowing the usual behaviors of the minors and before any symptom of sudden change, abandonment of usual activities or desire to drop out of school, one should not hesitate to seek specialized help.

Dr. Roldan assures that the taboo of death should be demystified and people with problems such as depression, bipolar or emotional regulation disorders should be asked openly if they have considered the option of suicide, and in case of an affirmative answer, professional help should be sought for the individual, his family and members of his close environment.

The psychologist recommends families to teach children from an early age skills such as labeling or identifying emotions, for which, he suggested asking children what they feel, and explaining to them how anger, fear, frustration, sadness, pain feel, in order to begin to provide them with skills and emotional intelligence such as tolerance to discomfort.

Data Quality

Returning to the June 2023 WHO report, it should be noted that only about 80 WHO member states have quality vital registration data that can be used directly to estimate suicide rates.

Finally, it is reported that WHO Member States have committed under the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 to work towards the global goal of reducing by one-third the number of suicides in the world by 2025.


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