Stigma against people with mental illnesses or suicidal behavior is a major barrier to suicide prevention, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) said today in the lead-up to World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September 2013. PAHO/WHO data show that more than 60,000 people take their own lives each year in the Americas.
“Suicide is a serious public health problem,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “We need to change societal attitudes toward mental illness and suicidal behavior so that people at risk and their families do not feel afraid, ashamed or discriminated against when they seek help. This kind of change could save thousands of lives.”
World Suicide Prevention Day, whose theme for 2013 is “Stigma: a major barrier for suicide prevention,” is an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and WHO. Its goal is to increase knowledge and awareness of suicide and the fact that it is preventable. This year’s campaign calls for eliminating stigma against people with mental illness or suicidal behavior.
A large percentage of people who take their own lives suffer from mental illness. More than 9 in 10 suicides are associated with psychiatric disorders, although social, economic and cultural factors also play an important role. Many people who take their own lives have had no contact with health or social services, and in many cases, no such services are readily available during moments of crisis.
Lack of adequate care and lack of knowledge are factors that increase the stigma associated with mental illness and suicidal behavior. Community-based educational programs can help increase public awareness of the characteristics and treatment of people with mental illnesses or suicidal behavior and of treatment resources that are available to help individuals with these problems.
Improved knowledge, however, is not sufficient to overcome stigma. Many health professionals feel uncomfortable treating people with mental disorders or suicidal thoughts and often have negative attitudes toward such patients. This can result in failure to provide optimal care and support for people in crisis. Changing such attitudes requires a long-term effort to change the underlying cultural values of the community in parallel with efforts to modify the treatment norms of health workers, especially in primary care.
Most suicides are preventable. WHO recommends, among other things, reducing access to the means of suicide (pesticides, medicines, firearms); increasing treatment for people with mental disorders, especially those suffering from depression, alcoholism or schizophrenia; ensuring follow-up of patients who have attempted suicide; promoting responsible treatment of these issues by the media; and training for primary health care professionals.
* Nearly 1 million people die from suicide each year worldwide, or 3,000 daily
* 250,000 annual suicides globally are among young people under age 25
* For every one person who takes his or her own life, 20 others attempt suicide
Suicide in the Americas
*More than 60,000 people die of suicide annually in the Americas
* Suicide is number 20 on the list of causes of mortality in the Americas
* Among people aged 10 to 24, suicide is the third-leading cause of death
* Suicide is four times more common in men than women
* The regional mortality rate from suicide in 2005-2009 was 7.4 deaths per 100,000 population
* The highest suicide rates are among people aged 45 to 59 (12 suicides per 100,000) and those over 60 (10.6 suicides per 100,000).
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO and is part of the Inter-American system.