The number of people who die annually through suicide is estimated to be at least 30,000 and that of individuals who make an attempt at suicide is 650,000. It has been ranked as the eleventh most common cause of mortality within the general population and the third most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Suicide is reported to claim more lives each year when compared to AIDS or murder. Despite the fact that many people die each year as a result of suicide, experts in the field concur that suicide is still an underreported cause of mortality because of two main reasons. Firstly, they state that there exist varying requirements for reporting throughout the country and secondly, the definition of suicide also varies in different parts of the country. The public health approach attempts to define suicide, analyze factors that may put an individual at risk of committing suicide and suggest preventive measures.
Most of the suicide instances can be attributed to the abuse of substances and alcohol. According to research findings, the effects of heavy alcohol consumption put one at the highest risk of committing suicide. Mental illnesses such as depression also account for a notable percentage of the suicide cases. It has been reported that 90 per cent of suicide cases result from either substance abuse or mental illnesses or a blend of the two conditions.
Society has failed to address this problem albeit the high number of resultant fatalities. This is because the society has continuously thought suicide to be an individual problem, as opposed to a community problem. Further, it has attached terrific stigma to both suicide and mental illness making it hard for individuals who are considering suicide as well as their families to look for help. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated strategies aimed at identifying the persons at risk, countering stigma and, ultimately discourage and stop suicide. The WHO in collaboration with the government, non-governmental organizations, suicide attempt survivors, suicide survivors and other stakeholders have successfully launched the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention whose main objectives are to provide access to mental healthcare services, prevent suicide and reduce stigma.
The symptoms of a suicidal person may not be identified by other people especially those who have never experienced suicidal feelings. Unlike other ailments whose distress signs can be detected overtly, those of suicide may be missed until after the worst has happened. This is where the public approach method comes in handy as it enables the identification of those people at risk for preventive measures to be applied. Some signs that could indicate that a person is at risk of suicide include; threats to harm or kill oneself, unusual talk about death by a person, hopeless feeling, social withdrawal, drastic mood changes, anxiety, increased drug or alcohol intake, and losing a sense of purpose for life among others.
Gatekeepers are extremely valuable actors in suicide prevention. This is because they have been trained to recognize those people at risk after which they refer them to mental healthcare treatment facilities or other supporting facilities. They include; police, volunteers, healthcare providers, clergy, school health workers, and mental health and substance abuse treatment practitioners among others.
There are certain barriers that prevent people from seeking help. The stigma related to mental illnesses and substance and alcohol abuse act as significant barriers when it comes to seeking for assistance. It has been reported that, 75 per cent of people who commit suicide are not under any mental health or substance abuse treatments at the time of their demise. Also, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment are done in separate facilities and follow different approaches to treatment thus interfering with the treatment of the individual. Fortunately, experts have recently initiated a method of treating co-occurring conditions such as depression and alcohol abuse. The treatment of the root causes of suicide, such as mental illness or substance abuse goes a long way to make better ones mental health condition as well as decrease the rates of suicide.
There are certain factors that place different, various groups of people at risk of committing suicide. At adolescence, factors such as the termination of a relationship, legal or disciplinary issues, and homosexual or bisexual orientations could heighten the risks of suicide. Among gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender teenagers, suicidal tendencies may increase as a result of low self-esteem, rejection by family and peers, limited coping skills, victimization, and alcohol and substance use among others. During the middle age, risk factors such as relationship problems, work-related issues, mental illness and substance abuse play a significant role. Older adults, risk factors include loneliness, depression, social isolation, substance abuse and physical health complications.
The processes of screening, assessment and treatment are crucial aspects of the suicide preventive strategy. The purposes of screening are to detect the presence of a mental or substance abuse disorder, to ascertain whether there is cause for concern, and whether there is any need for further evaluation. Assessment, on the other hand, is more in-depth and is based on the information collected during screening. Assessment is extremely valuable because it provides a foundation on which treatment should be done. Some of the tools used for screening include the “Is Path Warm” tool of the American Association of Suicidology and the “SAD PERSONS” scale developed by physicians.