The World Health Organization (WHO) is launching two vital resources aimed at strengthening global suicide prevention efforts: “Preventing suicide: A resource for media professionals (2023 update)” and a policy brief addressing the health dimensions of decriminalizing suicide and suicide attempts.
Addressing a Global Crisis
Suicide stands as a significant global public health crisis, with more than 700,000 lives lost to it annually. Among individuals aged 15–29, it ranks as the fourth leading cause of death. Each suicide represents not only a profound tragedy in itself but also inflicts far-reaching devastation on families and communities.
Suicide’s roots often intertwine with a complex web of social, economic, cultural, and psychological factors. Factors such as the denial of basic human rights, limited access to resources, and the weight of stressful life events, including job loss, academic pressures, relationship breakdowns, and discrimination, contribute to this dire issue.
A Global Commitment to Reduce Suicide
Reducing the global suicide rate by one-third by 2030 stands as a key target within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the WHO Global Mental Health Action Plan. Achieving this goal necessitates immediate and concerted action, with nations committing to implementing concrete measures.
Dévora Kestel, Director of Mental Health and Substance Use at the World Health Organization, underscores the urgency: “Each death by suicide is a tragedy, and more must be done to strengthen suicide prevention.”
Decriminalization of Suicide and Suicide Attempts
Shockingly, suicide and suicide attempts are criminalized in the laws of at least 23 countries worldwide. Some of these countries actively penalize suicide attempts. Such criminalization perpetuates a climate of blame toward individuals grappling with suicidal thoughts, discouraging them from seeking timely assistance due to the fear of legal repercussions and societal stigma.
Drawing insights from nations that have recently decriminalized suicide and suicide attempts, including Guyana, Pakistan, and Singapore, the WHO’s policy brief offers recommendations for policymakers, legislators, and other decision-makers considering reform in this critical area.
Key recommendations include:
- Developing national suicide prevention strategies
- Allocating budgets for training first-line responders post-decriminalization
- Establishing rights-based community-based mental health services
- Formulating new mental health-related laws and policies that prioritize quality care and the rights of individuals with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities.
Promoting Responsible Media Reporting on Suicide
The fourth edition of “Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals,” produced in collaboration with the International Association for Suicide Prevention, presents a comprehensive overview of the current evidence regarding the impact of media reporting on suicide. It provides practical guidance to media professionals on responsible suicide reporting.
Dr. Alexandra Fleischmann, a scientist at WHO, highlights the crucial role of media in suicide prevention: “Responsible media coverage of suicide is an important tool in our collective suicide prevention efforts.”
The resource acknowledges the significant influence that the media can wield in either reinforcing or undermining suicide prevention endeavors. Extensive, sensational, or inaccurate media coverage of suicide can increase the risk of imitative behaviors among vulnerable individuals, particularly if it portrays suicide as normal or perpetuates common myths. The resource offers guidance on accurate, responsible, and empathetic suicide reporting.
Furthermore, the resource emphasizes the growing body of evidence suggesting that reporting focusing on survival, resilience, and recovery can have positive effects, contributing to suicide prevention.
In sum, these new WHO resources are valuable tools in the ongoing fight against suicide, aiming to reduce stigma, promote responsible reporting, and ultimately save lives.