Mental health and suicide prevention: how can national policies be strengthened and how can youth play a crucial role in reducing the risk

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Anushree Burade, a final year medical student from ESIC Medical College, Bangalore, India. The writer is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

According to WHO 2012 report, globally 800,000 people die of suicide. It is estimated that for each person who dies by suicide, more than 20 others attempt suicide. Because suicide remains a sensitive issue, it is very likely that it is under-reported due to stigma, criminalization, and weak surveillance systems. Hence, it becomes of utmost value to address this issue.

 WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020 describes suicide prevention as an important priority for achieving the global target of reducing the rate of suicide in countries by 10% by 2020. Target 3.4 of the SDGs is to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030 through prevention and treatment and the promotion of mental health and well-being.

 The elements of a strategic approach for suicide prevention (WHO, 2012) along with core effective interventions (WHO, 2014) are embodied by LIVE LIFE for preventing suicide.

LIVE stands for leadership, interventions, vision, and evaluation and builds the pillars of LIFE – i.e. the core interventions, which are: less means (i.e. restricting access to means of suicide), interaction with the media for responsible reporting, formation of the young in their life skills, and early identification, management and follow-up.

 Youth can play a significant role in reducing the risks and strengthening the national policies for suicide prevention by:

1.      Identifying the vulnerable group – people with mental health illnesses, previous suicide attempts, minorities – cultural minorities, women, elderly, children, substance abuse patients, chronic illness patients, and domestic violence survivors.

2.      Training of young people in their settings (Schools, Colleges) in enhancing young people’s problem-solving, coping, and life skills, which has been shown to be an effective intervention for suicide prevention among the young.

3.      Formation of youth associations that take up accountability of vulnerable people for suicide in early identification of symptoms and surveillance of their wellbeing. Setting up an emergency crisis response system for suicide attempts (as was done by the Republic of Korea in Life Love Plan: Third Basic Plan for Suicide Prevention)

4.      Responsible usage of social media with respect to mental health issues. Usage of statuary warning, media professionals refraining from the glamorized presentation of cases of suicide and thereby avoiding imitation by vulnerable people, communicating stories of someone coping successfully, seeking and receiving help that would destigmatize mental health illnesses.

5.      Addressing the relevant stakeholders – Ministries, Universities, Health Administration, and NGOs regarding the issues, Allocation of ample resources for monitoring and surveillance of vulnerable groups’ mental health status, and demanding the formation of special bodies who would solely take care of mental health related issues (as done by Scotland by the creation of a new post of Minister for Mental Health in 2016)

 Such steps by young people in strengthening national policies for suicide prevention and reducing the risk for mental health illnesses will help us achieve the goal, we once dreamt of – A world with zero deaths by suicide.

About the author
Anushree is a final year medical student from ESIC Medical College, Bangalore, India, who is a passionate public health enthusiast and mental health advocate. Her main area of interest lies in working on innovative approaches that bring affordability and feasibility of health care to the general public. Apart from studying medicine, she loves reading books of various genres and drawing visual illustrations. 


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