The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risk factors associated with suicidal behaviors and has urged that suicide prevention be prioritised.
According to head of the Mental Health Unit at PAHO, Renato Oliveira e Souza, suicide is an urgent public health problem and its prevention must be a national priority.
“We need concrete action from all elements of society to put an end to these deaths, and for governments to create and invest in a comprehensive national strategy to improve suicide prevention and care,” he stated.
PAHO says studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified risk factors associated with suicide, such as job or economic loss, trauma or abuse, mental health disorders, and barriers to accessing health care.
The organisation disclosed that around 50% of people who participated in a World Economic Forum survey in Chile, Brazil, Peru and Canada one year after the start of the pandemic, reported that their mental health had declined.
Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), accounting for one in every 100 deaths.
Each year, more people die from suicide than from HIV, malaria or breast cancer, or from war and homicide. Suicide is also the fourth leading cause of death worldwide among young people aged between 15 to 29, after road traffic accidents, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence, it has been reported.
According to WHO’s World Health Statistics 2019, 97,339 people died by suicide in the Americas in 2019 and it is estimated that suicide attempts may have been 20 times that number. Males accounted for around 77% of all deaths from suicide and, although progress has been made in the development of evidence-based interventions in suicide prevention, many countries continue to have increasing rates.
Key proven suicide prevention measures include limiting access to means of suicide (such as pesticides and firearms), early identification, assessment, management and follow-up of people affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviors, fostering adolescent social-emotional skills, and educating the media in responsible reporting on suicide.