WHO reviews fact sheet on suicide (6 September 2016)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reviewed its fact sheet on suicide.

Key Messages:

Each year, more than 800,000 people take their own lives, and many more attempt suicide.

Globally, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds in 2012.

Suicide is a global phenomenon, and affects all regions- in 2012, 75% of suicides happened in low and middle-income countries.

Suicide is a serious public health problem; however, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions.

Who is at risk?

In high-income countries, there is a well established relationship between certain mental illnesses and suicide.

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 addition, suicidal behaviour is strongly associated with experiencing

  • conflict,
  • disaster,
  • violence,
  • abuse, or
  • loss and
  • a sense of isolation.

Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as

  • refugees and migrants;
  • indigenous peoples;
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) persons; and
  • prisoners.

By far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Methods of suicide

It is estimated that around 30% of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries.

Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.

Prevention and Control

Suicides are preventable. There are a number of measures that can be taken at population, sub-population and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. 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 behaviour;
  • follow-up care for people who attempted suicide and provision of community support.

Stigma and Taboo

Stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide are not seeking help and are therefore not getting the help they need.

The prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to a lack of awareness of suicide as a major public health problem and the taboo in many societies to openly discuss it.

To date, only a few countries have included suicide prevention among their health priorities and only 28 countries report having a national suicide prevention strategy.

Raising community awareness and breaking down the taboo is important for countries to make progress in preventing suicide.

Useful Links:

Link to the fact sheet:


Link to resource series on preventing suicide (multiple languages):


Link to WHO publication ‘Preventing suicide: A global imperative'(multiple languages):


Link to document detailing myths regarding suicide (English)[PDF]:


Link to WHO document ‘Public Health Action for the Prevention of Suicide’ (English)[PDF]:




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