Suicide prevention must be a priority: PAHO Director

8 Sep 2023
illustration older woman holding adolescent's hands on a green bench outdoors with title suicide prevention can save lives
8 Sep 2023

Washington, DC, September 8, 2023 (PAHO)- With nearly 100,000 deaths by suicide each year in the Americas, "suicide is a significant public health concern for the region," said Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

"Alarmingly, the region experienced a 17% increase in suicide rate from 2000 to 2019, making it the only World Health Organization (WHO) region to witness an increase," Dr. Barbosa said in a message to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, which takes place on September, 10.

The PAHO Director stressed that "every case of suicide is a tragedy that severely impacts not only individuals, but also families and communities.” Dr. Barbosa stressed that "suicide can be prevented" and asked countries to “create hope through our actions” and “reduce suicide in the region.”

While it can affect people of any age, in 2019 suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years worldwide. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to complete the act: for every woman who dies by suicide in the region, 3.5 men do. 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 Dr. Barbosa, adding that addressing suicide requires a collective effort. 

During the last week of September this year, ministers and senior health authorities from the Americas will meet at PAHO's 60th Directing Council where they will discuss a new strategy to improve mental health and prevent suicide. The strategy will "highlight suicide prevention as a priority" for all countries and areas of government and "emphasize the need for multisectoral 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.

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, 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," Dr. 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.

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.