Reducing the suicide risk: The significance of strengthening national policies and the role of youth

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Haolan Qi, an ophthalmology resident doctor currently studying at Nankai University, China. She 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.

Although suicide is not a mental health disorder, the primary cause of suicide is related to mental illness – most often depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and substance use disorders. The devastating impact of suicide reaches individuals, friends, families, and communities worldwide. It is a preventable tragedy. According to WHO, it is estimated that approximately 800,000 people take their lives every year. Tackling suicide is a global imperative. WHO wishes to reduce 10% of suicide rates in the Mental Health Action Plan.

Reducing the number of suicides is a complicated issue, requiring engagement in many sectors both in and outside of government and strengthened efficient national policies. The levels of suicide risk, which are used to choose suicide preventive interventions, can be categorized into society, community, relationship and individual. National governments can provide different suicide preventive strategies according to these four levels. For example, as for universal interventions, raising public awareness about mental health and suicide via responsible media reporting and limiting access to suicide means can be helpful. Selective suicide preventive strategies like reducing access to lethal means and strengthening policies to cut harmful use of alcohol, can be applied to vulnerable groups, such as people with mental health problems, alcohol and drug abusers. The government also needs to train health workers to identify and provide high-risk individuals with pharmacological and psychological treatment.

There is a strong association between increased suicide rates and economic recession, which suggests that timely governmental policy responses may help alleviate the impact of economic downturns, inequalities, and unemployment on suicide rates. These national policies can be: implementing governmental measures to address economic crises, strengthening household financial security and housing stabilization policies, offering school-based interventions for vulnerable groups such as setting up social-emotional learning programs, providing equal access to quality health care and strengthening the delivery of suicide care.

However, these strengthened national policies will not be effective if they fail to resonate with vulnerable groups. WHO reported that almost a third of all suicides are committed by young people worldwide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29. Empowering the youth and increasing youth engagement to co-design suicide prevention campaigns can benefit these youth interventions. Youth are natural experts in the internet and they can play a crucial role in reducing the suicide risk by acting as mental health information spreaders on social media.

Social media is accessible to everyone and can often act as a soft entry point into services to raise public awareness of mental health and suicide prevention. Although young people are often reluctant to seek professional help, they are continually active on the internet, enabling them to seek help and express depression in a non-judgmental environment. The necessary action to prevent suicides is promoting connectedness, including peer norm programs and community engagement activities. Social media transcend geographical boundaries, provide a sense of community and connection for often marginalized and hard-to-reach young people and deliver efficient interventions quickly at a relatively low cost.

About the author

Haolan Qi is an ophthalmology resident doctor currently studying at Nankai University, China. She is the Vice-President for External Affairs of IFMSA in China. She has great passion for promoting social health and a global advocate for Public Health; she aims to raise awareness about inequity in healthcare and improve its accessibility to low and middle income families and minorities in developing countries. She is an incredible speaker in many national and international conferences in the field of both ophthalmology and public health.

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