Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO).
“Every year, close to 800,000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide,” the United Nations health agency reports. “Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind.”
Most of these suicides occur in industrialized countries like the United States and Japan, as these are oftentimes reported in the media. Suicides in developing countries are low because they are always reported.
“Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries, but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world,” the WHO points out. “In fact, over 79% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016.”
An earlier WHO report said the Philippines has suicide rates (per 100,000) of 2.5 for men and 1.7 for women. This fact may be appalling for Filipinos but the numbers are way too small compared to those in Western countries.
In fact, the Philippines has one of the world’s lowest suicide rates. The 2000 Philippine Health Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) showed only 1.8 per 100,000 people to have inflicted harm on themselves. In comparison, European countries had the highest figures which ranged from 30 to 42 per 100,000.
According to the WHO, approximately 32% of the world’s suicides occur in Western Pacific region, of which the Philippines is part of. “While acknowledged as an important and neglected health issue, it remains a low priority in most Western Pacific countries due to competing health problems, stigma and poor understanding of the condition,” wrote Maria Theresa Redaniel, May Antonnette Lebanan-Dalida, and David Gunnell, authors of Suicide in the Philippines: Time Trend Analysis (1974-2005) and Literature Review.
Dr. Dinah Nadera, a psychologist of the University of the Philippines’ Open University told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that suicides happened between 8:01 in the morning and noon on weekdays, “when other people were not around in their homes.” The information was based from studies made on 300 cases from hospitals and police reports in 2008 and 2009.
Least suicides occurred between 12:01 and 4 a.m., the studies found out.
All in all, there may be more Filipinos who committed suicide than what was being recorded. “Certainly, the actual rate in the Philippines is probably higher, with many doctors agreeing not to report deaths as suicides because of the stigma. But even if we could get the true figure, it would probably still be relatively low,” Dr. Michael Tan wrote in widely-read column in Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“It is estimated that around 20% of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries,” the WHO says. “Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.”
In the Philippines, a study showed that the methods of committing suicide included shooting oneself, 40%; hanging, 30%; poisoning, 16.7%; and jumping from high places, 13.3%. In 73% of the reported cases, suicide was committed in their own homes.
Senator Joel Villanueva pointed out during a Senate hearing last year that 46% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 were from the youth. Filipino children as young as 10 years old resort to suicide because of depression, he said.
Suicide is generally equated with mental health. “While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, 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,” the WHO says.
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behavior, it adds.
Studies have also shown that suicide rates are also high among the vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex persons; and prisoners.
“By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt,” the WHO affirms.
While suicide is a serious public health problem, it can be prevented. “There are a number of measures that can be taken at population, sub-population and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts,” the WHO says.
These include: reducing access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, firearms, certain medications); reporting by media in a responsible way; introducing alcohol policies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol; early identification, treatment and care of people with mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and acute emotional distress; training of non-specialized health workers in the assessment and management of suicidal behavior; and follow-up care for people who attempted suicide and provision of community support.
“Suicide is a complex issue and therefore suicide prevention efforts require coordination and collaboration among multiple sectors of society, including the health sector and other sectors such as education, labor, agriculture, business, justice, law, defense, politics, and the media,” the UN health agency states. “These efforts must be comprehensive and integrated as no single approach alone can make an impact on an issue as complex as suicide.”