“One in 4 young adults has struggled with suicidal thoughts since the coronavirus hit …” and the steady rise in male suicide around the world

Recent “WHO guidance” on suicide incidence worldwide (June 17, 2021) says: “Every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer or war and homicide. In 2019, more than 700 000 people died by suicide: one in every 100 deaths, prompting WHO to produce new guidance to help countries improve suicide prevention and care.” (read HERE). We highlight that in developed countries the incidence in the age group 14 to 29 is higher, coincidentally, the same age group that in several countries has a higher incidence of coronavirus, which cannot but be an added concern. Men have also a higher incidence and could be more affected in the current crisis.  There are few countries that have efficient care and prevention politics.  WHO guidance, in our opinion, does not treat with enough emphasis the specific preventions for these risk groups. The issue is not easy and many campaigns have been carried out in different countries with poor results, the global incidence continues with an annual growth of 2%, which is an epidemic that urgently requires revising the current prevention criterion which is frequently focused exclusively on mental illnesses when the socio-economic aspects have no less negative effects.

“One in 100 deaths is by suicide.” WHO statement

We recently published the results of a study from 2001 to 2017 that showed a decrease in firearm-related suicides — the most common means of death by suicide — in the American states where the sale of handguns was restricted (read HERE). In another article with the latest figures for suicide in the US was published in Mental Health Awareness Month (May), says that “Young people attempt suicide at an alarmingly high rate: among 15-24-year-olds, there is one suicide for every 100-200 attempts.

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youths aged 15-24.
  • Young people attempt suicide at an alarmingly high rate: among 15-24-year-olds, there is one suicide for every 100-200 attempts.
  • Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death among youths aged 5-14.
  • A youth suicide (aged 15-24) occurs every 100 minutes.
  • Young people can become emotionally distraught rather easily and thus are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts” read HERE.

Better framework to understand and address male suicide

On the other hand, an article published in “BMC on health” (August 6, 2021) affirms that in a blog for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Rob Whitley argues for a better framework to understand and address male suicide as discussed in his upcoming book Men’s Issues and Men’s Mental Health.

Men make up the vast majority of completed suicides

The author’s book underlines a fact regarding suicide, that men make up the vast majority of completed suicides across the world. In Europe around 80% and in the Americas 75% of completed suicide. He cites the last report of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention CDC  which reports a 26 % increase in male suicide since 1999. The article concluded that “These rising rates suggest that existing approaches to suicide prevention may be missing the mark“.

The book proposes a new framework involving the relationship between various social factors and health outcomes to build targeted prevention programs and interventions. It continues enumerating the men’s groups with more incidence of suicide: Aboriginal men; military veterans unemployed men and men with mental illness, in this order of importance.

What are the common factors underlying high rates of suicide in the above groups? There are 3 main common factors;

  • High level of isolation (read HERE)
  • Social stigma
  • Financial strain.

Men in these groups are typically overlooked in the provisions of service and the suicide prevention campaigns before and during the present pandemic crisis. The book ends by proposing some actions to solve these current deficiencies in prevention campaigns (read more HERE).

An overview of the young adult’s suicidal thoughts in the pandemic era

We continue our article published in the US newspaper The Washington Post (November 23, 2020) that addresses young adults’ suicidal thoughts and examines figures during the coronavirus crisis. We excerpt the more interesting points from a bioethical perspective, without mentioning the many tragic cases of young people who killed themselves cited in the piece.

Young adults suicidal thoughts

The article begins with the shocking subtitle, “One in 4 young adults have struggled with suicidal thoughts since the coronavirus hit […]. It reports that, “when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently asked young adults if they had thought about killing themselves in the past 30 days, 1 of 4 said they had”.

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The article continues, “In Arizona’s Pima County, officials have sent two health bulletins alerting doctors and hospitals to spikes in suicides. In Oregon’s Columbia County, the number of suicides by summer had already surpassed last year’s total. In the sprawling Chicago suburbs, DuPage County has reported a 23 percent rise compared with last year. And in the city itself, the number of suicides among African Americans has far surpassed the total for 2019, even as officials struggle to understand whether the deaths are being driven by the pandemic, racial unrest or both. What has shocked medical examiners in Chicago is the age range — from a 57-year-old deputy police chief to a 9-year-old child.”

The author reviews suicide rates in the US, “Even as suicide rates have fallen globally; they have climbed every year in the United States since 1999, increasing 35 percent over the past two decades. Still, funding and prevention efforts have continued to lag far behind all other leading causes of death. Then came the pandemic.”

This moment appears to be especially perilous for young people with a higher incidence of Covid 19 in developed countries

According to the author, what makes this moment especially perilous for young people is that their suicide rates were rising faster than any other group in North America and some developed countries. “Between 2007 and 2018, suicides increased 56 percent among teens and young adults.” In the US, “[t]he pandemic could accelerate that trend. A federal study on the coronavirus’s mental impact in August found that the youngest people surveyed had the highest rates of increased anxiety, depression, substance use and other mental health problems.”

The article continues with the opinion of a specialist. “‘At that age, you’re looking for your place in the world, searching for your identity,’ said Jonathan Singer, a suicide researcher and president of the American Association of Suicidology. ‘To be stuck in life right now, not able to get a job, not able to plan and see a way forward — to be home and feeling like you’re a burden — it’s challenging.’”

Suicide in coronavirus pandemic in some countries that track suicides

The article criticizes the American public health approach to mental health and suicide prevention and says that “[…] countries that track suicides more closely than America said they are starting to see sharp upticks. Japan said suicides in August increased 15 percent. Nepal has similarly reported increases. Thailand recently said its suicides have risen 22 percent compared with the year before. Thailand’s health ministry has directed police to monitor social media to find people in distress and is setting up a reporting system to get suicide statistics faster. ‘We definitely cannot wait,’ a ministry spokesman said.”

Positive prevention strategy: could save thousands, experts say

The author, in an attempt to find a way to prevent suicide, says, “Large-scale studies found that when hospitals asked emergency room patients if they have had suicidal thoughts and followed up, it cut the risk of suicidal behavior by half. Adding such screening questions during the pandemic — at schools, primary care offices and hospitals — could save thousands, experts say.”

A Bioethics statement is of little value if it is not followed by an action plan

From a bioethical standpoint, it is urgent to study each country’s population with particularly high incidence in teens and young adults, and make a plan of action that includes improved mental health care and follow-up of persons suffering some mental disorders or having suicidal thoughts with special attention in the family and environment of youth and children with previous attempt or that hurt themselves including urgent measures to face the social deficiencies of the groups of men described above. This last measure is even ignored by the last WHO guidance to help the world reach the target of reducing the suicide rate by 1/3 by 2030 (June 17, 2021). From our personalistic bioethical perspective, it is a crucial matter.




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