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In U.S., men more likely than women to kill themselves, WHO finds

John Zarocostas
McClatchy foreign staff

GENEVA More than 800,000 people commit suicide every year globally, about one person every 40 seconds, the World Health Organization said Thursday, in a call for governments to make suicide prevention a higher priority on the global public health agenda.

“Unfortunately, suicide all too often fails to be prioritized as a major public health problem,” said Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general.

Worldwide, an estimated 804,000 people killed themselves in 2012, a rate of about 11.4 per 100,000 population. Males were almost twice as likely as females to kill themselves, WHO reported, with a rate of 15.0 per 100,000 for men, versus 8.0 for women. The difference is even more pronounced in wealthy nations, where three times as many men as women kill themselves. In poorer countries, the ratio is closer to even, with 1.5 male suicides for every female one.

Of the 43,361 Americans who killed themselves in 2012, 34,055 were male and 9,306 for female.

The most common methods of suicide worldwide, WHO reported, were pesticide poisoning, hanging, and gunshots. Suicide is the second leading cause of death globally among 15 to 29 year olds.

In rich countries, hanging accounted for 50 percent of the deaths while firearms took the lives of about 18 percent of suicides, the WHO report said _ except in the United States, where gunshots accounted for the majority of suicides. Self-poisoning was the method in 30 percent of deaths worldwide.

The global study was the result of 10 years of research. But it found no one factor that explained why a person would kill himself. “Suicidal behavior is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by several interacting factors − personal, social, psychological, cultural, biological and environmental,” the report said. Financial problems play a significant role, as does stress.

Shekhar Saxena, WHO’s director of mental health and substance abuse, said that during the recent global economic crisis “countries affected more by financial crisis did have a higher rate of suicide. Recent joblessness, change in status of families, (were) certainly a factor.”

Reducing access to pesticides. storing firearms safely and doing thorough background checks “can help” prevent suicides, said Etienne Krug,WHO director of noncommunicable diseases, disability, violence and injury prevention.

Ella Arensman, president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, told McClatchy the U.S. government should tighten access to firearms as a suicide prevention technique.

The study included suicide rates for 172 countries. Among the highest rates were North Korea and South Korea, with rates of 39.5 and 36.6 among 100,000 population, respectively, Lithuania, with a 33.3 rate, Japan, 23.1, Russia, 22.4, and India, 20.9.

Suicide rates were low in many Latin American countries, including Mexico, at 4.1, Colombia, 5.3, and Venezuela, 2.5.

The United States’ overall rate was 13.7.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.
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