Suicide

An important social and public health problem

Definition

The World Health Organization defines suicide as the act of deliberately killing oneself. Suicide must be initiated by purpose and carried out by a person with full knowledge or expectation of how fatal the outcome of their actions will be. Suicidal behaviour without a fatal outcome is referred to as a suicide attempt, parasuicide, or an act of deliberate self-harm (WHO, 1998).

Vsak sedmi ima blago duševno motnjo

According to estimation by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one in seven of us has at least one mild mental disorder at this very moment, and every third person will have one at least once in their lives (WHO, 2011).

Mental health is closely related to a variety of self-destructive behaviours, ranging from self-harming behaviour and suicidal ideation to suicide.

Statistics

Slovenia is among the countries where suicide is a major social and public health problem. For many decades we have had a suicide ratio around 30 per 10,000 inhabitants, ranking among the top three countries in the world. After the year 2000, the number of suicides began to decline and has stabilized at slightly more than 20 in recent years.

Worldwide, between 500,000 and 1.2 million people die from suicide every year (Hawton and van Heeringen, 2000)

In Slovenia in 2011 most suicides occurred in men between the ages of 55 and 59 years (Institute of Public Health, 2012). The highest ratio is among the elderly between 80 and 84 years. There are more suicides among men, but more attempts among women. The most striking difference between genders is the fact that men use more dangerous methods. North-Eastern regions of Slovenia are more vulnerable to suicide. These regions also experience greater alcohol abuse, less psychiatric assistance, greater social risk, and more approving attitudes toward suicide. These are culturally contingent factors that adversely affect suicidal behaviour.

It is encouraging that the number of suicides in Slovenia is declining in the long term. The trend is even more obvious in the last decade and continues during the recession. However, Slovenia still ranks among the top ten countries with the highest suicide rate.

Causes and changes

Scientists and researchers are trying to explain what differentiates countries with different suicide rates and what the reasons are for the decline in the number of suicides. We do not have complete answers but we know that individual, situational, and social factors play an important role. In recent years among social factors we see a greater involvement in social networks, positive changes in attitudes toward suicide, and changes in people seeking help by talking more about their distress and ways of solving their problems. The media contributes to shaping our perception of the world and thus also has an important role in suicide prevention.

Prevention

Despite the statistics and cultural influences, suicide is preventable. This is not only the responsibility of professional staff in health services or social services.

Suicide is not only a public health problem but a societal problem. This means that we are all obliged to help when a person is in distress.

We often need to be encouraged to ask how someone feels, or if they are in distress and are thinking about harming themselves. However, it is precisely such a sincere question that is the most effective in preventing suicide.

When you give someone an opportunity for an honest conversation about their distress, you have already taken the first step. It is best that in such situations a person finds professional help.

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