Each year, close to 800 000 people commit suicide. For each person, 20 more attempt suicide. This corresponds to 1 person dying by suicide every 40 seconds. In the WHO European Region alone, 128 000 people take their own life every year.

Suicide is a serious public health problem. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families and communities, and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Suicide spans socioeconomic boundaries, race, gender and age, and occurs throughout the lifespan.

However, suicides are preventable with early intervention, social support and timely, evidence-based and often low-cost intervention in national policy response.

Although a majority of countries of the European Region declared suicide to be a significant public health concern in a 2013 survey conducted by WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention, fewer than 20 countries of the Region are currently known to have a national suicide prevention strategy.

Suicide is one of the conditions prioritized in the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) launched in 2008, which provides evidence-based technical guidance to scale up service provision and care in countries for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

In the European Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020, WHO Member States committed themselves to working towards the global target of reducing the suicide rate in countries by 10% by 2020.

Key facts about suicide

  • The majority of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. The suicide rate is highest in high-income countries. This means that suicide is a public health problem in countries of all income levels.
  • Both men and women die by suicide; nearly 3 times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rate is more equal.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents (10–19 years old) in low- and middle-income countries and the second leading cause in high-income countries in the European Region. In 2015, there were over 4000 deaths from suicide among 10–19-year olds in the Region, principally among boys.
  • According to the latest Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, 29% of 15-year-old girls and 13% of 15-year-old boys in European countries reported “feeling low” more than once a week. Also, more than 1 in 10 adolescents were regular weekly drinkers by the age of 15 (9% of girls and 16% of boys).
  • Half of all mental health problems in adulthood have their onset during or before adolescence.
  • Young people who are disadvantaged – including minorities and migrants – are particularly affected.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders are among the top 5 causes of the overall disease burden (measured in terms of disability-adjusted life years).
  • Suicides are preventable; for a sustainable reduction in suicides, all countries must incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes.