One person commits suicide every 40 seconds, an avoidable tragedy that fails to grab attention because of taboos and stigma, a UN report said yesterday.
In a study released three weeks after the apparent suicide of Hollywood great Robin Williams, the World Health Organisation also warned that media reporting of suicide details raises the risk of copycat behaviour.
"Every suicide is a tragedy. It is estimated that over 800,000 people die by suicide and that there are many attempts for each death," said WHO chief Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, a former Hong Kong health director, in the landmark report capping a decade of research.
"The impact on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching, even long after persons dear to them have taken their own lives."
The WHO said suicide was a major public health problem that must be confronted and stemmed. It studied 172 countries to produce the report. It said that in 2012, high-income countries had a slightly higher suicide rate - 12.7 per 100,000 people, versus 11.2 in low- and middle-income nations. Given the latter category's far higher population, they accounted for three-quarters of the global total.
Southeast Asia - defined by the WHO to include North Korea, India, Indonesia and Nepal - accounted for more than one in three suicides.
The most frequently used means of committing suicide globally are pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms, but jumping from buildings is a common method in highly urbanised areas in Asia.
The WHO cautioned that suicide figures were sketchy, with fewer than half of the nations surveyed keeping clear tallies. It crunched a range of data to enable it to craft country-by-country estimates. The global rate was put at 11.4 per 100,000, with men almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives.
The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana (44.2 per 100,000), followed by North and South Korea (38.5 and 28.9 respectively). Next came Sri Lanka (28.8), Lithuania (28.2), Suriname (27.8), Mozambique (27.4), Nepal and Tanzania (24.9 each), Burundi (23.1), India (21.1) and South Sudan (19.8). In both Russia and Uganda the figure was 19.5, followed by Hungary (19.1), Japan (18.5) and Belarus (18.3).
In high-income countries, mental disorders were present in up to 90 per cent of suicides, compared with around 60 per cent in countries such as China and India, WHO said.
The UN agency said its goal by 2020 was to cut national suicide rates by 10 per cent.
The media and social network users are regularly criticised for giving lurid details of suicides.