In recent weeks suicide has been written about extensively in the United States, with high profile individuals giving a renewed focus to the tragic loss of life, taken by one’s own hands. And while advocates and educators of mental health care are doing their best to use these tragedies to save countless other lives, the conversation appears to get continually lost in the sordid details of celebrity and scandal.
But with new data just released in the U.K. and global efforts garnering traction in the most wide-ranging geographies in the world, it is time to take a step back and refocus on the global epidemicthat is suicide. Especially among the world’s young people.
Here are some key takeaways for better understanding how large of a global health problem suicide really is:
- According to the CDC, the link between suicide and mental disorders - in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders - is well established in high-income countries like the U.S. However, “many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness,” in all countries in the world, and are on the rise.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death globally for 15-29 year-olds, and at record breaking levels for students in high income countries, especially among students. Researchers concluded that the suicide rate among U.K. students has risen by 56% between 2007 and 2016. Although it is important to remember that the number of students has also changed in that period, making it difficult to accurately know the increase.
- An alarming 78% of suicides occur in low-and middle-income countries. Moreover, it is estimated that around 30% of suicides in low- and middle-income countries are via self-poisoning with pesticides. Most of which occur in rural, agricultural areas.
- The Japanese, despite being a very high income country and having a population less than half the size of the United States (126 million compared to the United States' 275 million), has the same number of suicides annually.
- In 2017, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy asserted that loneliness was a growing health epidemic related to loss of life. He cited a study that contends social isolation is associated with a “reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” or long-term illness.
- The U.K. has just appointed the world’s 1st Minister for Loneliness. The country leadership was stunned when reports came out last year from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, more than 9 million people in Britain alone (about 14% of the population) admitted they often or always feel lonely. And, that the impact costs U.K. employers up to $3.5 billion (USD) annually, in addition to high levels of suicide across age groups.
Although any and all efforts to curb mental and physical health problems associated with suicide are important, it is clear that around the world, efforts are collectively falling short. The taking of one’s life is not a rich or poor problem, nor is it a cultural phenomenon. It is pervasive across every society and region of the world, and only getting worse. It’s time we stop thinking about suicide as individual acts, and begin thinking about the health of the human race.