Suicides on the Rise in America: What’s Happening?

Inequalities at different levels, unemployment, and the consumption of alcohol or other psychoactive substances are reasons why suicides have increased in the region of the Americas. There are also significant gender differences in this phenomenon.

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Aumentan los suicidios en América: ¿Qué está pasando?

A new study by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and The Lancet Regional Health – Americas Magazine investigated the causes of the increase in suicides in the Americas and what strategies could be to curb this phenomenon. It is the only region in the world where suicide mortality has increased since 2000. The data indicates that in 2019 there were more than 97,000 suicides in the area. Although 79% of suicides in the Americas occur among men, suicide among women has been increasing.

One of the significant conclusions of the investigations is that there are different social determinants for the suicide of women and men. "While homicide and alcohol and other substance use are associated with increased suicide mortality among men, educational inequality was the main factor among women. For both sexes, unemployment was associated with increased mortality from suicide," says a PAHO statement. For this reason, prevention and risk reduction actions must have a gender approach.

Lead author of the report, Shannon Lange, a scientist at the Institute for Policy Research in Mental Health (CAMH) of Canada, told the PAO that assessing social factors is crucial, as cultural expectations of gender respond to differences in suicide mortality between men and women.

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On the other hand, it is highlighted that measures such as increasing per capita health spending have helped curb suicide in men. In contrast, increasing the number of doctors employed to care for the population helped reduce suicide in women. Likewise, it is highlighted that medical care for people living in rural areas has been essential to reduce the mortality rate in areas usually isolated from urban centers.

What do you Recommend to Prevent Suicide in the Americas?

Renato Oliveira e Souza, PAHO's chief of Mental Health and Substance Use and one of the article's authors, points out that more work must be done on developing socio-emotional skills. He also indicated that improving access to mental health care is necessary. However, there are factors such as job opportunities or access to multiple public services that also have an impact on mental health. Increasing employment and working to reduce inequalities are significant challenges for countries, especially in Latin America. It should not be forgotten that the WHO has found in its monitoring of cases that "77% of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries."

On the other hand, PAHO has a guide called "Vivir la vida," which offers a guide to countries and can also be valuable for multiple institutions on effective interventions to prevent suicide. At this point, it includes four central interventions: limiting access to the media to avoid suicide, interacting with the media so that they report responsibly, developing socio-emotional skills for the life of adolescents, and acting to detect and follow up on people with suicidal behaviors.

Regarding adolescents, emotional education or emotional intelligence is fundamental, and it must be implemented in schools and families. You have to start by teaching children to identify and express their emotions. Likewise, it is necessary to educate about the risks and implications of consuming psychoactive substances and alcohol. On the other hand, promoting the responsible use of social networks is essential.

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