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Surge in suicide rates in the Americas raises alarm; PAHO calls for collective effort

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2023. 6:20 am CST.

By Horace Palacio: In a recent statement on World Suicide Prevention Day, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), expressed deep concern over the escalating suicide rates in the Americas. Nearly 100,000 suicides occur annually in the region, marking it as a major public health issue.

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Dr. Barbosa revealed a disturbing 17% surge in suicide rates from 2000 to 2019. This makes the Americas the sole World Health Organization (WHO) region to record such a rise.

“Every instance of suicide devastates not only the individual but also shatters families and communities,” Dr. Barbosa lamented. He emphatically asserted that “suicide can be prevented.” He further urged nations to “infuse hope through concerted efforts” to mitigate this growing concern.

Disturbingly, suicide was recognized as the fourth leading cause of death for young individuals between 15 and 29 globally in 2019. The data showcases a pronounced gender divide: while women exhibit higher tendencies to attempt suicide, men are more likely to tragically succeed. In the Americas, the ratio stands at 3.5 men for every woman succumbing to suicide. Vulnerable groups, notably indigenous populations and the LGBTQI+ community, bear a disproportionate burden of suicide impacts.

The already dire situation was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Barbosa highlighted the escalation of risk factors such as unemployment, financial strain, and heightened social isolation. He emphasized the imperative of a collective approach to address the issue.

Later this month, a pivotal gathering of ministers and top health authorities is scheduled during PAHO’s 60th Directing Council. Here, a novel strategy for enhancing mental health and precluding suicides will be tabled. This strategy aims to spotlight suicide prevention across government sectors, stressing a multi-sectoral dedication to tackling the challenge.

Proposed strategies encompass measures like reducing self-harm means for at-risk individuals, fostering socio-emotional competencies in teenagers, prioritizing mental health at primary care, and dispelling stigmas tied to mental health.

Furthermore, in sync with World Suicide Prevention Day, PAHO hosted a webinar underscoring responsible suicide reporting in media and on social platforms. The WHO is concurrently revising its guide, Preventing Suicide: a resource for media professionals, stipulating the guidelines for apt suicide coverage.

Concluding his message, Dr. Barbosa committed PAHO’s continuous support in pioneering evidence-backed suicide prevention initiatives. This involves rejuvenating mental health and suicide prevention legislation and regulations, responsible media portrayals, and equipping healthcare personnel.

Inaugurated in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention alongside WHO, World Suicide Prevention Day aims to direct global attention to this issue, dismantle associated stigmas, and bolster the awareness that prevention is attainable. This year’s theme, “Creating Hope through Action”, encapsulates a potent reminder: action can nurture hope, presenting an alternative to despair and reinforcing prevention.


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