WHO: One Person Dies From Suicide Every 40 Seconds

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A woman walks past on the bridge of the Americas in La Paz, Bolivia, September 2, 2014. Dozens of padlocks are locked around cables along bridge of the Americas in La Paz, left behind by lovers with their names and dedications written on them. This bridge is the place chosen by lovers to walk by when they marry, but also the place where young people commit suicide by jumping off it. September is celebrated as the month of love in Bolivia. David Mercado/Reuters

One person commits suicide every 40 seconds and more than 800,000 people commit suicide every year, according to the first report on suicide prevention by the World Health Organization (WHO).

But more countries need to have a national suicide prevention program in place to help reduce the stigma surrounding suicides, the report says. Only 28 countries have a national strategy in place, and a further 13 have programs in development.

Seventy-five percent of suicides occur in low or middle-income countries and global suicide rates are highest among people over 70 in most regions in the world. In high-income countries, men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women, with men over 50-years-old "particularly vulnerable." 

“This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO. The study looked at 172 countries over 10 years. 

Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world at 44.2 deaths per 100,000 people, with North and South Korea following behind at 38.5 and 28.9 per 100,000, respectively. Sri Lanka, Lithuania and Suriname were also high up in the list of suicide-prone countries.

The most common methods of suicides are poisoning by pesticide, hanging and using firearms, and limiting access to these methods will help prevent deaths, the report says. In the U.S., using a firearm is the leading method of suicide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

WHO also warned media that irresponsible and sensationalized reporting of suicide could lead to an increase in copycat behavoir - echoing warnings that were made by experts after the recent suicide of Robin Williams.

“Inappropriate media reporting practices can sensationalize and glamourize suicide and increase the risk of “copycat” suicides (imitation of suicides) among vulnerable people,” the reports says. “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.”

The WHO is seeking to reduce suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020. World Suicide Prevention Day will be held on September 10 and aims to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma surrounding suicide.

For information and support, readers can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.