How can suicide be prevented?

Online Q&A
August 2012

Q: How can suicide be prevented?

A: Not all suicides can be prevented, but a majority can. There are a number of measures that can be taken at community and national levels to reduce the risk, including:

  • reducing access to the means of suicide (e.g. pesticides, medication, guns);
  • treating people with mental disorders (particularly those with depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia);
  • following-up people who made suicide attempts;
  • responsible media reporting;
  • training primary health care workers.

At a more personal level, it is important to know that only a small number of suicides happen without warning. Most people who kill themselves give definite warnings of their intentions. Therefore, all threats of self-harm should be taken seriously. In addition, a majority of people who attempt suicide are ambivalent and not entirely intent on dying.

Many suicides occur in a period of improvement when the person has the energy and the will to turn despairing thoughts into destructive action. However, a once-suicidal person is not necessarily always at risk: suicidal thoughts may return but they are not permanent and in some people they may never return.

Every year, an estimated 900 000 people die by committing suicide. This represents one death every 40 seconds. Worldwide, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years.

For more information about suicide prevention, please see the following websites: