Global outlook on suicide prevention

Posted 23rd April 2024

By Dr Alan Woodward, Head of Policy, Lifeline International

The world has become a less predictable and secure place and people are becoming more distressed. Those working for the prevention of suicide now need to consider what can be done when whole populations of people are affected by world events and stressors. Additional approaches to the reliance on provision of care to individuals may be necessary to prevent suicides.

This was apparent in the presentations at several suicide prevention conferences, last year. The American Association of Suicidology conference in Portland, USA, included presentations on the need for healing in local communities in response to inequalities, homelessness, and social unrest. The European crisis lines congress in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, named underlying anxieties in many countries about nearby hostilities, and about the impacts of climate change. In Canberra, Australia, the suicide prevention conference featured sessions on the inequities surrounding costs of living.

It seems that Durkheim, the 19th century sociologist who viewed suicide as a socially influenced phenomenon, had a point: suicide is related to social fabric and structures. Psychosocial stressors and social factors affect the individual. Last year’s conferences were full of examples on the interplay between personal and social factors in suicide prevention.

The global congress for the International Association for Suicide Prevention, held in Piran, Slovenia reinforced this outlook. This meeting of 800 delegates from 80 countries upheld the importance of policy action and nationally coordinated suicide prevention strategies using a public health approach to address the social and commercial determinants – the macro factors - for suicide prevention.

The difficulty is that there is still a long way to go for government decision-makers and their policy advisors to apply this broader lens to their understanding of suicide. And yet, the decisions, resources, and structures through which the ‘macro factors’ to prevent suicide can be addressed are mostly in the hands of governments, community leaders and employers. We need them to act.

So where does that leave those working in suicide prevention programs and services? What can they contribute towards a re-alignment and reform on suicide prevention in a rapidly changed world?

One thing that can be done is to ensure that there are open doors and online/digital welcoming mats out for those who are in distress and despair. We need services and community outreach to promote crisis support for those who are struggling to cope with life’s challenges.

Even brief contacts with crisis support can save lives. This is because crisis support addresses the impacts of the macro factors as they translate into people’s experiences of unemployment, financial insecurity, relationship breakdowns, illness and injury, addictions, violence, social exclusion, and discrimination. Crisis support provides a humanitarian relief from their distress and boosts a person’s coping capabilities so they can get through. By its nature, crisis support is attuned to the contextual and social factors in a person’s life.

This offer of immediate relief and support is a ‘micro’ aspect of suicide prevention, and it must sit alongside the macro, so we never lose sight of the individual in need. More than ever before, crisis support is a frontline, essential service for the prevention of suicide.

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