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Suicide Deaths Exceed Wars and Terror Attacks Combined

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Jonny Rogers reports on studies showing that suicide has increased in recent decades, and how suicide prevention should be prioritised.

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In 2018, there were over 6.5 thousand registered suicides in the UK – 11.2 out of every 100,000 people. Around three-quarters of these deaths were men, and the largest age group was 45-49 years. It is important to remember that each figure represents real lives that have been lost, and that no suicide rate, as Professor Louis Appleby says, is an acceptable one.


According to Our World in Data, around 800,000 people die from suicide each year, while around 150,000 are killed in conflict and terrorist activity. As Yuval Noah Harari puts it, “of all the people in the world, you are most likely to be killed by yourself”.



Covid, Mental Health and Suicide


Although there were concerns that the national lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic would see an increase in suicides in the UK, a study from the University of Manchester found no evidence that was this was the case. Another study showed that suicide rates even decreased in the first few months of lockdown across a number of nations.


However, it will likely take a few years before we can begin to understand the impact of the pandemic, as the residual effect of limited social contact, health-related issues and increased unemployment will, for some, last for many years. In October 2020, paramedic callouts to suicides and attempted suicides in London doubled in a year.


Other reports have claimed that the suicide rate in Thailand has increased over the past year due to bereavement, financial insecurity and the loss of support networks. Thailand had previously been found to have the highest rate of suicide amongst Southeast Asian nations.


In March this year, the UK government announced a mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan, which includes a £500 million investment targeting individuals who have been most impacted by the pandemic. The government aims to provide mental health care for an extra 2 million people every year by investing £2.3 billion more per year.



Suicide Prevention


There is no one cause of suicide, and therefore no easy solution. It has been suggested that middle-aged men are more likely to die by suicide due to an inability to attain certain ‘masculine ideals’ which often encourage resistance to showing vulnerability and openness. However, the rate of suicide amongst females under 25 in England and Wales has increased by 93.8% since 2012; and, in the United States, suicides amongst black adolescents increased from 2001 to 2017.


Studies have shown that socio-economic disadvantage is a key risk factor for suicidal behaviour, with suicide rates often increasing after economic recessions. As such, it is believed that investment in welfare, education, housing and employment will help save many lives.


It is also important that those working in news, journalism and entertainment are responsible for representing suicide in an appropriate and sensitive way. A study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that the release of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why in 2017, which revolves around the aftermath of a teenager’s suicide, coincided with “a significant increase in monthly suicide rates among US youth aged 10 to 17 years”.


According to Samaritans – a charity aimed at providing support to those in emotional distress – excessive media coverage of celebrity suicides has resulted in an increase of suicides from members of the public, and reports that detail methods and locations can encourage imitators. On the other hand, stories that show people seeking appropriate help can testify that it is possible to get through a difficult time.


Samantha Lovell, whose brother took his own life last year, offers the following advice for those who are struggling, and those who know others that are:


“My message to someone thinking about taking their own life is, talk to people, get help, do anything you can to stop yourself from doing that. You think people are better off without you, that’s not true at all.”

Samaritans can be contacted for free at 116 112, or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. If you have any reason to believe that a friend, neighbour or member of your family is having a difficult time, take a moment to reach out and invite them to seek the appropriate support.

Article on a similar topic: The Hidden Concerns of a National Lockdown

 

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