Pandemic increasing risk factors for suicide, warns WHO

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Globally, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year.

Suicide prevention must be prioritized after 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Americas office of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, commemorated annually on 10 September.

Studies show that the global crisis has exacerbated risk factors associated with suicidal behaviours, such as job loss, trauma or abuse, mental health disorders and barriers to accessing health care.

“Suicide is an urgent public health problem and its prevention must be a national priority,” said Renato Oliveira e Souza, head of the Mental Health Unit at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“We need concrete action from all elements of society to put an end to these deaths, and for governments to create and invest in a comprehensive national strategy to improve suicide prevention and care,” he added.

Globally, one in 100 deaths is by suicide, making it among the leading causes of death worldwide and the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds, after road traffic accidents, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.

More people die each year from suicide than from HIV, malaria, or breast cancer, or from war and homicide, according to WHO.

Some of the verbal or behavioural warning signs for suicide include talking about wanting to die, feeling immense guilt or shame, or feeling like a burden to others. Other signs are feeling empty, hopeless or trapped, or having no reason to live, or feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, or full of anger.

Among behavioural changes that can also be warning signs, are researching ways to die, staying away from friends, giving away important items, showing extreme mood swings, eating or sleeping too much or too little, and using drugs or alcohol more often.

Anyone who detects warning signs of suicide, whether in themselves or in someone they know, should seek help from a health care professional as soon as possible.