More than 700,000 people commit suicide every year, and many more people attempt to take their own lives.
Each suicide is a tragedy that affects the lives of families, communities and entire countries, and has long-term consequences for the loved ones of the deceased.
Suicide is committed by people of all ages and was the fourth leading cause of death among people aged 15-29 worldwide in 2019.
In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,500 people.
The act is not limited to high-income countries; this global phenomenon is characteristic of all regions of the world.
This is confirmed by the fact that in 2019 more than 77% of suicides worldwide occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
While suicide is complicated and tragic, it can often be prevented. Knowing the warning signs of suicide and how to get help can save lives.
Signs and symptoms of suicide
The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
- Talk about wanting to die or kill yourself.
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or with no reason to live.
- Make a plan or figure out ways to kill yourself, such as searching online for lethal methods, hoarding pills, or acquiring a weapon.
- Talk about feeling great guilt or shame.
- Talk about feeling trapped or that there is no solution.
- Feeling excruciating pain (either physical or emotional).
- Talk about being a burden to others.
- Use alcohol or drugs more often.
- Be anxious or agitated.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Change eating or sleeping habits.
- Showing anger or talking about seeking revenge.
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast.
- Talk or think about death often.
- Showing extreme ups and downs in mood, suddenly changing from feeling sad to being calm or happy.
- Giving away important material possessions.
- Say goodbye to family and friends.
- Put your affairs in order or make a will.
If these red flags apply to someone you know, get help as soon as possible, especially if the behavior is new or has recently worsened.
Suicide does not discriminate against anyone. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk.
Suicidal behavior is complex and there is no single cause that originates it. There are many different factors that contribute to someone attempting suicide.
However, people who are at higher risk tend to share several specific characteristics. The main risk factors are:
- depression or other mental or substance abuse disorders;
- certain medical problems;
- chronic pain;
- a previous suicide attempt;
- family history of mental or substance abuse disorders;
- family history of suicide;
- family violence, including physical or sexual abuse;
- possession of guns or other firearms in the home;
- recent release from a prison or jail;
- exposure to other suicidal behavior, such as from family members or colleagues, or from a celebrity.
Many people have these risk factors, but they do not attempt suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not a normal response to stress.
Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress, not a harmless attempt to attract attention, and should not be ignored.
Family and friends are often the first to recognize suicide warning signs, and this can be the first step in helping an at-risk person find treatment with someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health problems.
Suicide is complex. Treatments and therapies for people with suicidal thoughts or actions will vary based on age, gender, physical and mental well-being, and individual experiences.
Prevention and suppression
A variety of measures can be applied to prevent suicide and attempted suicide at the level of the general population, different populations and individuals.
The WHO LIVE LIFE concept of suicide prevention recommends the following effective and evidence-based interventions:
- restricting access to means of suicide (for example, pesticides, firearms, certain medications);
- engaging with the media to ensure responsible reporting
- developing social and emotional life skills in adolescents;
- early detection, examination, management and subsequent support of all persons suffering from suicidal behavior.
Along with these measures, the following basic tasks should be performed: situation analysis, interagency collaboration, awareness raising, capacity building, funding, surveillance, and monitoring and evaluation.
These efforts must be inclusive and comprehensive, since no approach can in isolation have an impact on a problem as complex as suicide.