With a life lost every 40 seconds, the prevalence of suicide is increasing at alarming rates around the world. Despite numerous programs and national campaigns aiming to raise awareness of the warning signs, there is sometimes little indication of the tortuous thought and mental turmoil that brings some to breaking point.
Mental health around the world is declining. The World Health Organisation defines depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Sadly the symptoms of the illnesses most common to result in suicide are comparatively invisible alongside other global mortality and morbidity causes such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancers. Medical technology is not yet advanced enough to detect suicide like we can malignant cancer, nor is treatment as immediately effective to offer a life-saving procedure like a coronary bypass. Mental health conditions and suicide are comparatively deceptive and silent, yet far less exclusive on who it grips.
Diagnoses of stress, anxiety and depression disorders are escalating, a good sign that people are seeking assistance and accessing treatment before reaching the point of no return. Physicians globally are prescribing counselling sessions and medications like never before, but we’re still losing ground against suicide with the global suicide rate predicted to double to one every 20 seconds by 2020.
The burden of suicide is harsh, heavy and long-lasting. It’s a haunting thought that the loved ones left behind relentlessly castigate themselves with reflections of “I should have known”, and “I could have done something if I knew”. Worst still is the resounding narrative of regret from survivors of a self-selected death, with frequent cases of jumpers in particular who speak of wishing they could change their mind mid-fall. There’s no doubt death is soul shifting, but the hurt on those left behind from death by suicide is often felt more solemnly.
“Global suicide rate predicted to double to one in every 20 seconds by 2020.”
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year olds around the world. Lithuania has the highest rate in Europe at 32.7 suicides per 100,000, three times that of the mean rate of suicide at 11.6 cases per 100,000 people, and the second-highest suicide rate in the world in 2018, behind South Korea.
Popular sociological opinion points to the decline of the family unit, the rise of atheism, alcoholism and easier access to drugs, increases in loneliness, financial pressure, career stress, and social media as contributing factors to the suicide pandemic. Despite the increase in stressors, we are still relying on the same resilience education and support as 100 years ago – which is largely nothing – and it’s clear traditional treatment methods are not coping with increased demands of modern society.
Mental health-related issues are not restricted to the poor, the untalented, or the homeless. Everyone is vulnerable, even the world’s financially elite – multi-billionaire James Packer, a major shareholder of Crown Resorts and Casinos stepped down from the board due to mental health reasons.
“Suicidal behaviour does not discriminate between race, age, gender, colour or status.”
Olympic stars Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe as well as Premier League footballer Aaron Lennon have all publically announced their battles with mental health. Entertainers Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga, and Prince Harry have publicized their battles with dark mental periods; none more famous than the timeless actor Robin Williams who eventually lost his battle with depression to suicide in 2014.
Suicide contagion is studied and recognised phenomena, and there have been documented spikes in cases following a celebrity suicide announcement in the media. Emmy-award winner and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was found just days after renowned fashion designer Kate Spade tragically chose the same self-determined death. In the month following Marilyn Monroe’s death by barbiturates overdose in 1962, there was a jump in suicide deaths by as much as 12%, according to the Center for Suicide Prevention. Unfortunately, with the increase of digital news outlets and the speed at which social media can spread a story, copycat suicides, also known as suicide clusters are on the rise, with adolescents being the most affected.
Suicidal behaviour does not discriminate between race, age, gender, colour or status. It has the potential to affect us all. No one is immune and people across the globe are struggling right now. While it is possible to improve our own mental resilience through wellbeing programs and self-education, the issues surrounding and leading up to suicide are becoming increasingly supported by governments, NGOs, startups and employers. Canada was the first country to legislate a standard of workplace psychological well being, spearheaded by Dr Joti Samra. Other forward-thinking governments include Australia, Sweden and the UK. Encouragingly, after seeing the reported self-selected death figures, the Lithuanian government have tasked suicide as a priority for change in their next term.
It’s not just government’s opening up about this issue, with NGO’s like beyond blue, the World Health Organisation, Movember, the International Association of Suicide Prevention and many others raising awareness. The British Royal family are behind Heads Together – a super-charity consolidating 8 established charities charged with changing the conversation on mental health. New Zealand’s government recently pledged the world’s first wellbeing budget of $1.2 billion towards mental health services. Two international days have been set – World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), on 10th September and World Mental Health Day on 10th October and most countries hold a national day such as Australia’s RUOK day on 12th September.
There is a long list of guidelines by some of the above mentioned NGO’s that support an integrated approach towards healthy lifestyle habits, earlier intervention technologies and more advanced treatment and support. Confidence in finding newer, more innovative solutions is being further fuelled by a study in Europe proving that new technologies can be useful resources and should be incorporated into suicide prevention programs. The solution must be multidisciplinary, evidence-based and most importantly translated from difficult to understand psycho-babble to relatable easy-to-digest soundbites.
“New Zealand’s government has pledged $1.2 billion towards mental health services in their new budget.”
Mental Health First Aid courses are now being rolled out in 26 countries, a training course that teaches members of the public how to offer initial support until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves. There are solutions out there for less than the price of a coffee per person per year, and new technology can now educate and coach people towards mental resiliency from their mobile phone. Being so accessible means anyone with a smartphone can gain a proactive communication gateway for early intervention through tele-support and virtual counselling.
Modern-day suicide prevention solutions are integrating a range of wellness and medical technologies including gamification, telemedicine, wearables, education, incentives, community connections, charitable causes, data analytics and machine learning. Although the velocity of suicide statistics is heading in the wrong direction now, the tragic facts are demanding attention, and innovators across the world are finding new solutions faster than ever.
We’ve overcome our complacency inertia and as a result momentum for positive change is now growing. There is an opportunity at hand for prominent global figureheads in government and corporate business to lead from the front and plan ahead to engage with experts and make headway on the largest illness of our time. Awareness has been raised, and now is the time to act, follow-up and create meaningful change that will improve the lives of generations to come.
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