News / Health

More People Die from Suicide Than From Wars, Natural Disasters Combined

FILE - Suicide rates worldwide in 2012.
FILE - Suicide rates worldwide in 2012.
Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization reports more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year.  WHO, which is launching its first global report on suicide prevention, said more people die from suicide than from conflicts, wars and natural disasters combined.  

The World Health Organization reported every 40 seconds a person somewhere in the world commits suicide.  Despite this shockingly high statistic, WHO said only a handful of countries have policies aimed at suicide prevention.

WHO Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Shekhar Saxena said there also is much more that communities can do to provide support for vulnerable people.  He said suicide is the final outcome for people who are feeling isolated, depressed and hopeless.  He said society can do more to provide support to them at a moment of great distress.  

“People who eventually commit suicide have, almost in all cases, sought help from someone.  It can be a friend, it can be a family member, it can be a health care system, it can be a social care system.  It could be a religious organization and very often this request or plea for help was not responded to positively.  So communities, families have a responsibility to be available and to provide the kind of support which people need,” explained Saxena. 

The World Health Organization calls suicide a major global health problem.  It said a common misconception is that suicides are a Western and developed country phenomena.  In reality, it said some 75 percent of suicides occur in low-and-middle-income-countries.

It cites the most common methods of suicide globally as pesticide poisoning, hanging, and firearms.  Data from a number of European countries, the United States and other developed nations shows limiting access to these means can help prevent people dying by suicide.

The U.N. health agency finds suicide rates globally are highest in people aged 70 years and over.  However, Dr. Saxena said young people are greatly at risk.  He noted suicide is the second leading cause of death among those between 15 and 29.  

“Overall in the world, more men commit suicide than women.  Although in richer countries, in the more developed countries, the proportion is many more men compared to women.   In developing countries, the proportion is less skewed," Saxena noted. "That means …of course, there is still more men, but definitely not as much as in developed countries.” 

WHO said the highest rates of suicide are found in Central and Eastern Europe and in some Asian countries.  It said suicide rates in Africa appear to be on the low side.  But, it cautions data from that region is scant and not very reliable.

Health officials agree that celebrity suicides can provoke copycat behavior.  Scientist in the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Alexandra Fleischmann, told VOA there is a link between the way in which suicides are reported in the media and acts that are committed thereafter.

“So, this underlines and emphasizes the role the media play in reporting suicide cases.  Suicide should not be glamorized or sensationalized in the media because of the imitation that can follow,” stated Fleischmann.

Among its recommendations, the World Health Organization is calling for an end to the criminalization of attempted suicide.  It says there currently are 25 countries in the world  -- in Africa, South America, and Asia -- where both suicide and attempted suicide are considered criminal acts.  It says even people who unintentionally overdose on a substance may end up in prison instead of in a health facility that could help them heal. 

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Virginia
September 05, 2014 8:18 AM
Its like crime, if you take away one thing that people use to commit crime, they will find another means. If no guns are available to shoot yourself with, they will find a tall ledge to leap over. Level all the hills and make your area flat as a pancake, they will use rope to hang themselves with. Ban sales on rope, etc. etc.

If people are feeling isolated, it is because they are allowing themselves to be so. In a technological age as we are living in now, everything is being done from a distance, there is very little human contact in most of it. Emails instead of a phone call or a visit, even a letter. Pay your bills online instead of going to the business to do it in person. online shopping instead of going into a store to pick it out and pay for it over the counter. Some people even earn a living from their homes doing stuff on a computer, there is no going to work and interacting with co-workers. And children are learning this from a younger age now, less time going outside to play with neighborhood kids, its social media and Facebook and texting instead of kicking the ball around the yard with friends.

I have seen this with my own eyes, and was floored when I did; in a local restaurant recently, a group of five people at the same table, and everyone one of them with some hand held device, doing their own thing. Not a word spoken among them the entire time they were dining there. I could even imagine they were 'conversing' with each other over their devices instead of using actual spoken words. Craziest thing I had ever seen.

While I know death is the inevitable ending to all life, why rush that end. Slow down, have fun and live life to the fullest. If people were less busy with their own lives they could easier see the difficulties others may be having and could stop and help them in some way... at least make them feel needed and important. It just might be the push that person needed to get over a rough point in their life and keep going.

by: Kimber from: usa
September 04, 2014 11:45 PM
People are feeling more alienated. They would rather visit on Facebook then to visit in person. They would rather text than phone. I bet all the people were lacking genuine communication. That and the vast differences between the haves and have nots. If you have society and families value you. If you have not your cast away. It would make any body want to kill themselves.

by: Jim from: Melbourne
September 04, 2014 6:37 PM
Here in Australia, when we restricted firearms, self inflicted drug overdose death skyrocketed.

Our government counts barely any of those as suicide, although researcher believe many to most are, meaning our suicide rate didn't drop at all, just the means changed to "hidden suicide."

There needs to be an emphasis on mental health aspects, not on a shellgame of focusing on means

by: F.A. Hutchison from: Cochabamba, Bolivia
September 04, 2014 6:13 PM
Silly to try to prevent suicides. The world is over-populated, we're 'red-lining!'
If people want to kill themselves, they should be allowed to. The Hemlock Society should be supported.

by: MCPants from: USA
September 04, 2014 5:44 PM
Not one mention of antidepressants but one suggestion to ban guns. Terrible reporting.

by: Margaret from: Maine
September 04, 2014 5:37 PM
The world is over populated. If people don't want to be here, as tragic as it may be for loved ones, let them kill themselves. Why waste any more resources on someone who doesn't want it. Or who will not be an active and contributing member of society. Give their food to someone who deserves it.
Sorry physiology majors. . . work on the people who want to be here.

by: jim b from: CA
September 04, 2014 3:30 PM
So finally it isn't guns that kill people it is people who kill people.

by: Anonymous
September 04, 2014 3:21 PM
Wow is all i can say... its a crime in some countries? Insane

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs