Around the world, more than 800,000 people die by suicide per year. It is more likely that the true number of suicides is closer to two million. The impact on families of suicides and unnatural deaths are devastating and long reaching. On average more people die by suicide than die due to wars and civil strife. We are beginning to realise the extensiveness of the suicides crises however it is time that we focused the discussion on reducing the number of people dying from suicide; preventing suicide. The majority of suicides are preventable. The majority of suicides are believed to have stressors arising from poverty. Social health and social cohesion can be improved. Far too many suicides are the result of identity crises – racialism, racism, gender, the psychosocial self, the sense of helplessness, powerlessness, a sense of low or of too high expectations. In May, 2013, the 66th World Health Assembly adopted the first ever Mental Health Action Plan of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Suicide prevention is an integral part of the plan. The plan’s immediate target is to reduce suicide in countries by 10 per cent in 2020. It has long been my contention that despite the evidence that many premature and unnatural deaths, which include suicide, are preventable, suicide is a low priority for governments. I have argued directly with Government Ministers that there is no greater legacy they can have than in the improving of lives and in the saving of lives. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 804,000 suicides were reported globally in 2012. The global suicide rate is 11.4 suicides per 100,000 population – 15 male suicides per 100,000 male population and 8 female suicides per 100,000 female population.
Suicide is a deeper problem in wealthier countries, where three times as many males suicide than do females. In the poorer countries the gender divide is less, where 1.5 males suicide to each female suicide. Extreme poverty is a more pronounced factor in poorer countries whereas in richer countries a sense of failure is a more pronounced factor. Then there are countries such as Australia – which is both rich and poor. It is the world’s second wealthiest nation per capita and the world’s 12th largest economy. But for the descendants of its First Peoples – its Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples – for the majority of them poverty and for far too many extreme poverty are their whole world. Australia has a relatively high suicide rate, in line with the high rates of western nations as opposed to the lower suicide rates of Middle Eastern and African nations. However, Australia’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples overall have more than double the national rate of suicide, and in some regions six and seven times the national suicide rate. Some regional Aboriginal youth suicide rates are among the highest in the world. Within developed nations where there is a colonial oppressor past, the descendants of their First Peoples, endure disproportionately high suicide rates. Opposed to this are poor countries without colonial oppressor histories where equivalent poverty to say that of which exists for a significant proportion of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. Their suicide rates are lower to those of peoples with a colonial oppressor past. Therefore racialization, racism and the clash of cultural settings, resistance to assimilation are direct factors contributing to the high rate of suicides in countries with colonial oppressor histories.
Today, 28 countries have national suicide prevention strategies. This is only the beginning. Suicide prevention must be at the fore of any national agenda. Suicide prevention needs to focus on identity, cultural rights, social health, social cohesion and the basic fact that those most vulnerable need support 24/7 – people need people; it goes no-how else. I have written more than 200 articles on suicide and on suicide prevention. I have completed a book on suicide and suicide prevention and I am working on a documentary series on the extensiveness of suicides and of the many various issues. This article in The Stringer is the first in a near daily series on suicide prevention and the ways forward – the discussions that we must have.
We need each other – end and beginning of story.
This article first appeared The Stringer, 23 February 2015.