Recent “WHO guidance” on suicide incidence during the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide (June 17, 2021) states that each year, more people die as a result of suicide than from HIV, malaria, breast cancer, war and homicide. It is also said that in 2019, more than 700,000 people died by suicide, one in 100 deaths, prompting the WHO to draft new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.
We highlight that in developed countries the incidence in the age group of 14 to 29 is very high and given that in several countries the same age group has a higher incidence of coronavirus, this is an added concern. Among men there is a higher incidence and they could also be more affected in the current crisis. Few countries have efficient care and prevention policies.
The WHO guidance does not include specific prevention measures for these risk groups. It is not a simple matter and many campaigns have been carried out in different countries with poor results, since the global incidence continues with an annual growth of 2%, which urges us to review the current prevention criteria, which on many occasions focus exclusively on in mental health, since socioeconomic aspects also have negative effects.
We recently published the results of a study, conducted between 2001 and 2017, that showed a decline in firearm-related suicides, the most common means of death by suicide, in US states where gun sales were restricted.
In another article, published in Mental Health Awareness Month, about the latest suicide figures in the US, it is commented that young people (between 15 and 24 years old) who attempt suicide are at an alarmingly high rate, there is one suicide for every 100 to 200 attempts.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth of that age and the sixth leading cause of death among youth ages 5 to 14. A young person (between 15 and 24 years old) commits suicide every 100 minutes in the United States. Young people can become emotionally distressed quite easily and are therefore vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
Measures to prevent male suicide
In a BMC blog, entitled On Health, Rob Whitley takes advantage of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to publish an article reviewing what would be the best framework for understanding and addressing male suicide through social determinants.
The author comments that men make up the vast majority of completed suicides worldwide: In Europe 80% and in America 75% of suicides are committed by men.
It is worrying that male suicide rates are rising after a period of decline. As a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, age-adjusted male suicide rates in the US showed a decline from the 1980s to 2006. But this report notes that male suicide increased by about 2% per year between 2006 and 2017, reflecting a 26% increase in male suicides since 1999. These rates suggest that existing approaches to suicide prevention are failing.
In fact, as argued in the book Men’s Issues and Men’s Mental Health, dominant approaches to male suicide prevention and men’s mental health insufficiently address the problem. Instead, public health should be improved to try to address suicide and men’s mental health. This involves examining the relationship between various social factors and health outcomes, using the results to create specific and tailored programs and interventions.
Common factors underlying high suicide rates are: high levels of isolation, social stigma, and financial strain. They may also be stereotyped and there may be a lack of public empathy for their plight, meaning few safety nets or support.
It would be necessary to address this problem of male suicide from a multiple approach, given the social determinants of health. And while the formal mental health system has an important role to play, community-driven programs should also take it upon themselves to help vulnerable men, especially as men often prefer such spaces. This could include local support groups, other nonprofits, and faith-based organizations, which are used to addressing the loneliness, social alienation, and diminished purpose in life that is often implicated in male suicide.
An overview of the young adult’s suicidal thoughts in the pandemic era
Another article, published in The Washington Post addresses young adults’ suicidal thoughts and examines the number of suicides during the coronavirus crisis.
The article states that one in four young adults have struggled with suicidal thoughts since the coronavirus hit and when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently asked them if they had thought about killing themselves in the past 30 days, 1 of 4 said they had.
The article comments that in Arizona officials sent out two health bulletins alerting doctors and hospitals about spikes in suicides. In Oregon, the number of summer suicides had already surpassed last year’s total. In Chicago, a 23% increase from last year has been reported, but what has surprised medical examiners is the age range, from 9 to 57 years.
The author discusses suicide rates in the United States, since although suicide rates have decreased globally, in the United States they have increased 35 percent in the last two decades. Despite that, funding and prevention have continued to lag far behind the other leading causes of death.
According to the author, what makes this time especially dangerous for young people is that between 2007 and 2018, suicides increased by 56% among adolescents and young adults in North America, and the pandemic could accelerate that trend. A study on the mental impact of coronavirus conducted in August found that younger people had the highest rates of anxiety, depression, substance use and other mental health problems.
Jonathan Singer, suicide researcher and president of the American Association of Suicidology explains that at that age, you’re looking for your own identity, your place in the world, and being stuck in life unable to get a job, unable to plan and see the way forward, being at home and feeling like a burden, is a challenge.
The article criticizes the American public health approach to mental health and suicide prevention, stating that in countries that track suicides more closely than the United States said they are beginning to see sharp increases. In Japan suicides increased by 15% percent in August, in Nepal there has also been a significant increase and in Thailand they have increased by 22%. For this reason, the Thai Ministry of Health has ordered the police to monitor social media to find people in danger and has established a reporting system to obtain suicide statistics faster.
The author says that large-scale studies found that when hospitals asked emergency room patients if they had had suicidal thoughts and followed up, the risk of suicidal behavior was cut in half. Asking those screening questions during the pandemic in schools, primary care practices and hospitals could save thousands.