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WHO: One person commits suicide every 40 seconds

UN’s first comprehensive report on global suicide trends shows high-income countries have slightly higher rate

More than 800,000 people commit suicide every year — the equivalent of one suicide every 40 seconds — according to a U.N. health agency report released on Thursday, calling for the problem to be confronted and stemmed.

"Every suicide is a tragedy," World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said in the agency's first report on suicide. She added that there are many suicide attempts for each of the estimated 804,000 deaths in 2012.

"The impact on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching, even long after persons dear to them have taken their own lives," she added.

The WHO, which called suicide a major public health problem, studied 172 countries over 10 years in producing the report.

In 2012, high-income countries had a slightly higher suicide rate — 12.7 per 100,000 people, versus 11.2 in low- and middle-income nations, the report said.

But given the latter category's far higher population, those countries accounted for three-quarters of the global total.

The section of Asia that includes North Korea, India, Indonesia and Nepal comprised over a third of the annual figure.

Suicides in high-income countries, meanwhile, accounted for about a quarter of the global figure.

The most frequently used methods globally are pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms. Jumping from buildings is a common method in highly urbanized areas in Asia.

The WHO cautioned that suicide figures are often sketchy, with less than half of the nations studied keeping clear tallies. The organization crunched a range of data to enable it to craft country-by-country estimates of the suicide rate.

The global rate was put at 11.4 per 100,000 people, with men almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives.

The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana (44.2 per 100,000), followed by North and South Korea (38.5 and 28.9, respectively).

Next came Sri Lanka (28.8), Lithuania (28.2), Suriname (27.8), Mozambique (27.4), Nepal and Tanzania (24.9 each), Burundi (23.1), India (21.1), South Sudan (19.8), Russia and Uganda (both with 19.5), Hungary (19.1), Japan (18.5) and Belarus (18.3).

In high-income countries, mental disorders such as depression were present in up to 90 percent of people who died by suicide, compared with about 60 percent in countries such as China and India, according to the WHO.

The U.N. agency said it has set a goal to cut suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020.

But it said a major challenge is that suicide victims are often from marginalized groups, many of them poor and vulnerable to a host of pressures.

Also, low-income countries whose health systems already struggle to deal with infectious diseases have particular difficulty detecting and helping people at risk of killing themselves.

In this study, which was released three weeks after the apparent suicide of Hollywood star Robin Williams, the WHO also warned that media reporting of the details of suicides raises the risk of copycat behavior.

Experts have repeatedly castigated the media and social network users for giving lurid details of suicides, whether of celebrities such as Williams or unknown individuals who killed themselves in bizarre ways.

"Inappropriate media reporting practices can sensationalize and glamorize suicide and increase the risk of copycat suicides," the report said.

"Media practices are inappropriate when they gratuitously cover celebrity suicides, report unusual methods of suicide or suicide clusters, show pictures or information about the method used or normalize suicide as an acceptable response to crisis or adversity," it said.

Agence France-Presse

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