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Overcoming depression and suicidal thoughts

Suicide is a global public health issue that affects individuals, families, and communities worldwide. According to the World Health Organization’s “Suicide worldwide in 2019: global health estimates” report, an estimated 703,000 people die by suicide each year, making it one of the leading causes of death globally.

Suicidal thoughts, which often stem from untreated depression, can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

Scope of the problem
Dr. Taiwo Lateef Sheikh, a professor of psychiatry at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, emphasizes the severity of the suicide epidemic.

“The WHO report reveals that over one in every 100 deaths in 2019 was the result of suicide, and the global suicide rate is more than twice as high among men compared to women. It’s a crisis that demands our urgent attention.”

The issue is particularly pressing for young people, as suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally, according to the World Health Organization’s ‘Suicide: key facts’ publication. “More than half of all deaths by suicide occur before the age of 50,” adds Dr. Sheikh. “This highlights the need for early intervention and support.”

Regional disparities and risk factors
While suicide occurs across all regions of the world, there are notable disparities between countries. Dr. Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist of the Ghana Health Service, points out that over three-quarters of global suicides in 2019 occurred in low- and middle-income countries, as reported by the WHO.

However, the highest age-standardized suicide rate is found in high-income countries, at 10.9 per 100,000 people.

“The WHO’s ‘Suicide: key facts’ publication highlights that factors such as conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, loss, and isolation can increase the risk of suicidal behavior,” explains Dr. Osei.

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“Vulnerable groups, including refugees, migrants, prisoners, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTI community, are at higher risk due to the discrimination they face.”

Link between depression and suicide
Dr. Lola Kola, a senior research fellow at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, stresses the strong connection between depression and suicide.

“A study by Ferrari et al. published in PLOS One found that an individual suffering from depression is twenty times more likely to die by suicide than someone without the disorder. This underscores the critical importance of recognizing and treating depression as a serious medical condition.”

The WHO’s “Suicide: key facts” report states that pesticide ingestion is a common method of suicide, particularly in rural agricultural settings, accounting for approximately one-fifth of all suicides globally. Hanging and firearms are also frequently used methods.

Need for legal and social change
Despite the prevalence of suicide, it remains illegal in over 20 countries. In some nations that follow Sharia law, individuals who engage in suicidal behavior may face legal penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, according to a review by Mishara and Weisstub published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

“These laws not only stigmatize those who are struggling but also create barriers to seeking help,” argues Dr. Osei. “We need to work towards creating a more compassionate and supportive legal and social environment for those affected by suicidal thoughts.”

A call to action
While the global rate of suicide shows signs of decline, as reported by the WHO, this is not the case in all countries and may be indicative of greater surveillance or access to data. Dr. Sheikh emphasizes the need for continued efforts to prevent suicide and support those in need.

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“We must break down the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage people to seek help,” she urges. “This includes improving access to mental health services, training healthcare professionals to recognize and respond to suicidal behavior, and promoting public awareness and education about suicide prevention.”

Dr. Osei adds, “Collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, community organizations, and individuals is essential in addressing this global crisis. By working together, we can save lives and create a world where everyone feels supported and valued.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. You are not alone, and there is hope for recovery. Together, we can work towards a future where no one feels that suicide is their only option.

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