The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide. Suicide is the 15th leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 1.4% of all deaths in 2012. This represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. Predictions are that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds.
In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Among young adults aged 15-29 years, suicide accounts for 8.5% of all deaths and ranks as the second leading cause of death, after road traffic injuries. In high-income countries, three times as many men die by suicide than women, while globally the corresponding figure is 1.8 times as many.
The availability and quality of data on suicide and suicide attempts are poor. For developing countries, many political, cultural, and religious hurdles make getting accurate information on suicide much more difficult. Underreporting and misclassification are common problems.
Suicide is a global phenomenon that occurs in all times and places. But suicide rates vary around the world. The map below highlights the spread of suicide, a public health concern some have labelled an ‘epidemic.’
Suicides are most prominent in Asia and Eastern Europe. Lithuania has the highest suicide rate among the countries for which there is data, with 28.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, followed by South Korea with 26.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
The two largest growing economies in our region are China and India. Whilst the majority of people are more prosperous the rates of suicide remain high. Those at an elevated risk of suicide vary from one culture to another.
In China, with a suicide rate of 22.2 deaths per 100,000, estimates suggest that 157,000 mostly rural Chinese women kill themselves each year. Why so many suicides among women, especially in the countryside? Traditional Chinese culture, still strong in the villages, places little value on women. Many are still treated as property by their fathers and husbands and are destined for a lifetime of backbreaking work. Poison often becomes a means to an end to their miseries. But hopelessness is the cause.
Ravi Zacharias was born in Chennai, India in 1946. He is a Christian apologist who has authored many Christian books. In Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows he talks about his attempt on his life when a young man. He says,
Unfortunately, in those days, the Indian culture was plagued with the methodology of humiliation, and that plague has wrought many suicides throughout the years.
India has a suicide rate of 22.0 deaths per 100,000. A recent study in The Lancet, a British Medical Journal, addresses the challenges faced by young people who want to be successful. It says,
In India, despair stalks students who fail the high-pressure exams that determine whether they will have a chance at further studies — and a better life. More than 50 students in a single Indian city killed themselves last year after the tests.
Ravi Zacharias tried to end his life by taking an overdose. He describes what he was experiencing at the time.
My attempt to end my life was a dark event. Moreover, it defined who I was – someone with no hope, no meaning.
“The desire to be taken seriously is the most ubiquitous, the most pervasive of all our social desires. Each person wants to be acknowledged, respected, appreciated, understood, valued and accepted,” writes Hugh Mackay in his book, The Good Life. He advises how we can instil hope in people and encourage a hunger for life.
Friendship, connectedness, engagement, community: these are the great life-savers, the great sources of human fulfilment. People who feel socially isolated, marginalised, or alienated are at greater risk of depression, despair and even suicide.