GENEVA – Around 800,000 people – one person every second – commit suicide every year, according to a new report from the World Health Organization, which as part of measures to tackle the phenomenon will contact film and TV directors to address the way suicide is depicted in the media.
Directors in Hollywood will be given WHO guidebooks to examine the way suicide is portrayed as part of a campaign the organization is launching Tuesday coinciding with world suicide prevention day.
“Inappropriate media reporting practices can sensationalize and glamourize suicide and increase the risk of ‘copycat’ suicides (imitation of suicides) among vulnerable people,” the report said.
“Important aspects of responsible reporting include: avoiding detailed descriptions of suicidal acts, avoiding sensationalism and glamorization, using responsible language, minimizing the prominence of suicide reports, avoiding oversimplifications, educating the public about suicide and available treatments, and providing information on where to seek help.”
The report found a general decline in global suicide rates, down from 14 per 100,000 people at the beginning of the century, to 10.2 in 2016. The only region it increased was the Americas.
“We know that in the region of the Americas, access to firearms and guns is an important means of suicide,” Alexandra Fleischmann, from the WHO’s mental health division told a press conference.
Uruguay has the highest number of suicides in Latin America, with a rate of 18.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The WHO advocated new legislation restricting access to firearms, which it said had worked in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway in the United Kingdom as well as certain pesticides, which are often used in rural areas.
It pointed to South Korea as an example, where cases of suicide fell by half between 2011-13 after a potent herbicide was banned.
Suicide is, after traffic accidents, the second leading cause of death among young people aged between 15-19, with more than 200,000 deaths in 2016, the WHO said.
For that reason, the WHO would put extra effort into education in schools.
The WHO report shows that the highest suicide rates in the world are found in several former Soviet nations, such as Lithuania (19.1 per 100,000), Russia (31) and Belarus (26.2).
In developed nations, the number of men who take their lives is three times greater than that of women, although the ratio is much closer in developing nations, where almost four of every five suicides is reported.
Only five countries studied by the WHO had female suicide rates higher than their male counterparts: China, Lesotho, Morocco, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The United Nations aims to reduce the global suicide rate before 2030, although at the current rate, this target would not be reached, the WHO warned.