September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
On this day, governments lead new initiatives to help prevent suicide, conferences and lectures are provided to raise awareness about suicide, and candlelight ceremonies are held in remembrance of those who died from suicide.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts affect individuals all across the globe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1 million people commit suicide every year. On average, this means that someone dies from suicide every 40 seconds and someone attempts to commit suicide every 3 seconds.
These statistics are tragically high. The WHO estimates that more people die from suicide than from armed conflicts. For teenagers and young adults, suicide is one of the primary causes of death. Suicide also tends to be more common among men than women.
Country with the Highest Suicide Rate
The country with the highest rate of suicide in the world is Greenland. Even Japan, a country that has a history of high suicide rates, has 51 suicides per 100,000 residents. In Greenland, 100 die from suicide per 100,000 inhabitants.
This mental health issue is so widespread that just about everyone in Greenland knows someone who has committed suicide. And this is a historically recent phenomenon. In the early 1900s, this country’s suicide rate was merely 0.3 people per 100,000 residents. This rate dramatically increased in the latter part of the 20th century, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.
Researchers argue that residents of Greenland employ suicide methods that allow for a low chance of survival. 9 in 10 men commit suicide through shootings or hangings, and this method of killing also applies to 7 in 10 women.
It is difficult to determine why suicide is so prevalent in Greenland. Some theorists suggest that it can create a vicious cycle; once one person commits suicide, others may become more inclined to do the same. Some point to Greenland’s issues with poverty. Others highlight that 88% of the country’s population is Inuit, and much like North America, many of them suffer from alcoholism. Though Greenland has very harsh winters (which could contribute to depression), studies show that the highest rates of suicide occur in the summer.
Suicide in North America
Though suicide is not as prevalent as it is in Greenland, the United States and Canada continue to suffer from suicides.
In 2009 in the United States, there were 36,909 deaths from suicide – and this number is higher for men than women, as well as for people of color than Caucasians. (For more information about the relationship between minority groups and mental health issues, read What Can You Do to Raise Awareness?). Between 2008 and 2009, suicide was the only leading cause of death in the United States that showed a significant increase. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, and there are 12 suicides per 100,000 residents.
Similar to the United States, in 2009 Canada’s suicide rate was 11.5 suicides per 100,000 residents. In Canada, the highest rates of suicide occur among those between the ages of 40 and 59, and suicide is again more common among men than women.
Suicide Rates: Men Versus Women
Again and again, studies have found that suicide rates tend to be higher among men than women.
This is a difficult pattern to explain, but Payne et al. suggest that our socially constructed notions of masculinity and femininity may have an effect on suicidal behaviors. Because male gender roles focus more on strength and risk-taking behaviors, men may be more likely than females to commit suicide. Men might also feel more pressure to be ambitious and successful, which can lead to depression in times of economic turmoil and higher rates of unemployment. This is especially difficult when men feel the need to provide for their family.
Therapy to Help Prevent Suicide
Suicide is a serious mental health issue, but there are ways to help prevent it. Active Minds is an organization that aims to raise awareness and provide support for suicide prevention. They stress the importance of seeking help if you or someone you know suffers from suicidal thoughts or behaviors. They have a 24-hour suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) if you or someone you know needs to talk to someone. Long-term therapy is also highly recommended for those suffering from suicidal tendencies.
According to WHO, friends and family members of those contemplating suicide should also look for warning signs. If you discover that someone you know is threatening to harm him or herself, do not hesitate to seek help.
 Suicide. 2013. World Health Organization. [online] Available at: <http://www.who.int/topics/suicide/en/> [Accessed 2 September 2013].
 George, J. 9 October 2009. The Suicide Capital of the World. Slate. [online[ Available at: <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/dispatches/2009/10/the_suicide_capital_of_the_world.single.html#pagebreak_anchor_2> [Accessed 2 September 2013].
 Kochanek, K.D. et al. 29 November 2011. National Vital Statistics Report, v 50 no 3. [online] Available at: <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_03.pdf> [Accessed 2 September 2013].
 Payne et al. 2008. The social construction of gender and its influence on suicide: a review of the literature. Journal of Men's Health. [online] Available at: <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1875686708000146> [Accessed 2 September 2013].