What are you most scared of in the world? Most of us fear death in some way, shape or form. Surely, there aren’t many people who would say they fear themselves above all else – and yet the suicide statistics suggest otherwise.
Suicide kills more people than all forms of violence – including homicide, terrorism, armed conflict and executions.
Perhaps death on the frontline of a war orchestrated by politicians scares the brave soldiers who fight for a living, or the innocent civilians whose homes become battlegrounds, when they consider their own mortality.
Perhaps getting caught in the crossfire of extreme views in the face of an ever-changing and worrisome geo-political climate, or at the hands of a known enemy’s murderous intentions, is the fate which keeps others up at night.
However, the historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari notes in his TED Dialogue:
For the first time in history, more people commit suicide than are killed by crime and terrorism and war put together. Statistically, you are your own worst enemy.
At least, of all the people in the world, you are most likely to be killed by yourself.
The World Health Organization estimates approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide.
In 2016 specifically, 817,148 people took their own lives, according to Our World In Data, making up over one per cent of deaths in the world – just one of many suicide statistics which constitute a totality of figures totting up untold sadness.
Here’s another: Globally, someone dies by suicide every forty seconds.
To put it bluntly, by the time you’ve finished reading this article, in about ten minutes, 15 people will have thought life so unbearable they will have decided to end their own.
More than 100 Americans commit suicide every day. It’s the tenth leading cause of death overall; third among 15- to 24-year-olds and fourth among 25- to 44-year-olds.
What those numbers don’t show is the turmoil which led up to the decision to die by suicide, or the abyss of grief and guilt felt wholeheartedly by those who are left behind.
The NHS offers advice if you are feeling suicidal, or you’re worried about someone else:
On this side of the pond, over 6,000 people take their own lives by suicide on average each year in the UK and Republic of Ireland (ROI). In other words, one person – someone’s son or daughter – departs this world of their own volition every 90 minutes.
It’s the equivalent of 12 Boeing 747s dropping out of the skies each and every month of the year, according to the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA).
Two thirds of these people were not in contact with mental health services. For every person who dies by suicide, an estimated 20 more attempt to take their own lives.
We can all agree there’s no such thing as a painless suicide and one life lost is one too many.
It’s the motto of the ZSA, who told UNILAD their ambition is inspired by the Henry Ford system in Detroit, which began a programme of screening every patient – not just those with mental illness – for risk of suicide in 2001.
The suicide rate among its patient population fell by 75 per cent within four years and by 2008, they eliminated all suicides among people in their care.
ZSA told UNILAD why zero suicide will never be an ‘over-ambitious objective’:
If the target is not zero, what is an acceptable number for deaths by suicide?
The Zero Suicide Alliance aims to challenge the thinking that simply reducing suicide rates is enough. We believe no death by suicide should be regarded as either acceptable or inevitable.
Each and every one of them has an incalculable impact on those who know the deceased and has huge impact on society in general, the local community and its resources.
Every single suicide is a tragedy because it is another person who either felt unable to ask for help or did not know how to access it.
But bear in mind, Samaritans say, the suicide crisis might actually be more pervasive than figures of registered suicides suggest, due to a quirk in the coronial process of registering deaths in England.
A 2017 report from Samaritans addresses the under-reporting of suicide:
It is commonly acknowledged within the field of suicide research and prevention that official statistics underestimate the ‘true’ number and, therefore, rate of suicide.
Of course, under-reported or not, the suicide statistics speak for themselves.
But today – on World Suicide Prevention Day as organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – we look to so much more than statistics for answers.
We look to those who didn’t feel life was worth living – fathers, daughters, best friends, colleagues – and listen to their stories, as told by the bereaved, in the hopes of understanding their pain.
We look to suicide survivors, who stepped back from the brink and found the path to a life which felt worthwhile, for strength.
We look to activists, charities, carers and crisis workers, who fight on the frontline of human despair, and we learn in the hopes of finding a way beyond the temporary bleakness of depression and suicidal thoughts.
We look to Westminster for more accurate figures to help better treatment services which are still failing the person who will take their own life in the next 90 minutes, and the next, and the next…
We look within ourselves, knowing one small act of kindness can change – even save – a life.
Today, like every other day, it’s important to remember there’s no single suicide statistic which can point directly to a universal reason someone might decide to take their own life.
Approximately 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a mental health problem – whether it be diagnosed or undiagnosed – at the time of their death.
But there is almost never one single problem which causes someone to take their own life; often it can be combination of factors up to and including isolation, breakdown of relationships, job loss, financial strain, personal crisis or exposure to suicide itself.
Likewise, suicide doesn’t discriminate and there’s no one label society puts on a person which can protect them from the factors in wanting to take your own life.
There are some typically more at risk, however.
Owen Sharpe, CEO of the Movember Foundation told UNILAD:
Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 15 to 44 and as a preventable cause of death this is simply unacceptable.
We know that around 75 per cent of all suicides across the world are men and we are taking a stand to put an end to this problem.
At the Movember Foundation, we are empowering men worldwide with the tools and resources to be mentally healthy and well and navigate the tough times, surrounded by friends and family.
Like every human, every instance of suicide is different.
Moreover, there’s no single suicide statistic which can give someone grieving for the loss of a loved one any solace, except to know their suicide was not an isolated incident.
These statistics are evidence of an epidemic – one of the biggest killers in our country – and the question often remains: How can we stop it?
There may be warnings signs. There may not.
However, experts say directly asking someone if they’re thinking about taking their own life significantly decreases the likelihood of the person acting on their feelings.
It’s important to identify signs of potential risk:
It might feel like a losing battle, but actually all suicides are preventable. More importantly, there are some statistics we have the power to change, which subsequently could have the power to make successful suicide prevention a reality nationwide.
Research shows funding into suicide prevention lags well behind many other areas of health, including cancer – which, incidentally, doesn’t kill as many men under 50 as suicide.
There is 22 times more funding for each cancer patient than for everyone affected by a mental health problem. Suicide prevention gets only a slice of the funds allocated.
Likewise, estimates state each death by suicide cost the UK economy £1.5 million – and emotional trauma beyond comprehension.
Under Theresa May PM, the government have committed to reducing suicides in England by 10 per cent by 2021 to support the zero suicide ambition for mental health inpatients announced by then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January of this year.
This World Suicide Prevention Day it’s time, as a society, to take decisive action against a cause of death which, for so long, has been too taboo to tackle.
With the burgeoning awareness of the importance of mental health on our side, we can finally work towards the mission of zero suicide.
But first, experts need to know what they’re up against. While the value of suicide statistics is incomparable to the value and preciousness of each and every life the numbers represent, they might offer harrowing insights to help combat one of the world’s biggest killers.
But it is the stories which offer hope, every day, to anyone struggling.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week in the US. Follow UNILAD’s Suicide Prevention series every night at 8pm BST (3pm ET) over the next week on our social channels to find out more.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found at Suicide.org.
Save a life. Take the free suicide prevention training provided by Zero Suicide Alliance today.