FILE - Some of the 660 American flags on display, illustrating the number of U.S. veterans who commit suicide each year, are seen by the banner on the church lawn of St. Peter's Reformed Church, in Zelienople, Pa., Aug. 30, 2019.
FILE - Some of the 660 American flags on display, illustrating the number of U.S. veterans who commit suicide each year, are seen by the banner on the church lawn of St. Peter's Reformed Church, in Zelienople, Pa., Aug. 30, 2019.

GENEVA - On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, the World Health Organization is calling for action to stop the global epidemic, which every year takes the lives of an estimated 800,000 people. 

The WHO said Monday suicides are preventable and fewer people would die by self-inflicted means if more nations employed proven suicide prevention strategies.  And yet, the United Nations agency says only 38 countries are taking life-saving actions.

Every 40 seconds, one person around the world commits suicide, with young people particularly vulnerable, WHO reported.  Data show suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15 and 29, and is the leading cause of death among teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

The report finds the highest number of suicides -- 79 percent -- are in low-and medium-income countries, while suicide rates are highest in the richer countries.

Alexandra Fleischmann, WHO scientist in the department of mental health and substance abuse,said pesticide self-poisoning is a common means of suicide in agricultural areas of poorer nations.

“About one-fifth of all suicides are happening with this method," she said. "And, we know that it oftentimes is happening out of the moment because of distress, impulsively.

"Usually the persons are ambivalent about taking their own lives.  And, in this moment, they should not have the quick and ready access to the means to commit suicide," Fleischmann said.

She added many of these suicides can be prevented by banning highly hazardous pesticides in high-risk countries.  She said preventive measures also should be taken in regard to other common methods of suicide, notably hanging and firearms.

WHO reported important risk factors include a previous suicide attempt, mental health problems, depression, loss, stress, violence and alcohol abuse.

Interventions with a proven record of success include restricting access to means, responsible media reporting that does not glamorize suicide, and teaching young people how to cope with life's stresses.