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PAHO: Suicide is a major public health concern

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Nearly 100,000 people commit suicide each year in the Americas, according to Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), making it a “significant public health concern” for the continent.

In a statement to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day, which is on Sunday, Dr. Barbosa noted that the region’s suicide rate alarmingly increased by 17% between 2000 and 2019, making it the only WHO region to have an increase.

The director of PAHO emphasized that “every suicide case is a tragedy that severely impacts not only individuals but also families and communities.”

He said suicide can be prevented and asked Caribbean countries to “create hope through our actions” and “reduce suicide in the region.”

While it can affect people of any age, PAHO said that, in 2019, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years worldwide and women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to complete the act. According to PAHO, of every woman who dies by suicide in the region, 3.5 men commit the act.

In addition, available evidence indicates a disproportionate impact of suicide among groups in situation of vulnerability, such as indigenous populations and LGBTQI+ people.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated many risk factors for suicide, including unemployment, financial insecurity and social isolation,” said Barbosa, adding that addressing suicide requires a collective effort.

During the last week of September this year, PAHO said ministers and senior health authorities from the Americas, including the Caribbean, would meet at PAHO’s 60th Directing Council, where they will discuss a new strategy to improve mental health and prevent suicide.

PAHO said the strategy will “highlight suicide prevention as a priority” for all countries and areas of government and “emphasize the need for multi-sectoral commitment” to prevent it.

Strategies to address suicide include restricting access to the means of self-harm for a person at risk of suicide, developing social and-emotional life skills in adolescents, having accessible and integrated mental health services and professionals at the first level of care, and eliminating stigma about mental health, one of the main barriers to help-seeking, PAHO said.

This week, and to mark the world day, PAHO organized a webinar to promote responsible reporting of suicide in media and through social networks, another of the main evidence-based strategies that can help prevent it.

This year, the WHO is updating its guide preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals, with recommendations on the dos and don’ts of suicide reporting.

“PAHO continues to work with countries to promote evidence-based strategies on suicide prevention, including updated mental health and suicide prevention laws and policies; regulations to limit access to the means of suicide; and responsible media reporting,” Barbosa said.

“We will continue to support the education and training of healthcare workers and the strengthening of national surveillance systems to inform the development of locally- adapted suicide prevention strategies,” he added.

PAHO said World Suicide Prevention Day was established in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with WHO to focus attention on the issue, reduce the stigma associated with it and raise awareness that suicides are preventable.

This year’s theme, “Creating Hope through Action”, is a call to action and a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and that through actions hope can be encouraged and prevention strengthened.








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