India accounted for the highest estimated number of suicides in the world in 2012, according to a WHO report published on Thursday, which found that one person commits suicide every 40 seconds globally.
In the WHO South-East Asia Region, the estimated suicide rate is the highest as compared to other WHO regions. Suicide rates show a peak among the young and the elderly, the report said.
Most suicides in the world occur in the South-East Asia Region (39 per cent of those in low- and middle-income countries in South-East Asia alone) with India accounting for the highest estimated number of suicides overall in 2012.
According to the report, 258,075 people committed suicide in India in 2012, with 99,977 women and 158,098 men taking their own lives. India's suicide rate was 21.1 per 100,000 people, according to the report.
"This report, the first WHO publication of its kind, presents a comprehensive overview of suicide, suicide attempts and successful suicide prevention efforts worldwide. We know what works. Now is the time to act," said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.
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).
More than 800,000 people die by suicide every year - around one person every 40 seconds, according to the report. Some 75 per cent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally. Suicide by intentional pesticide ingestion is of particular concern in rural agricultural areas in the South-East Asia Region, the report said.
Evidence from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the US and a number of European countries shows that limiting access to means of suicide can help prevent people dying by suicide.
Another key to reducing deaths by suicide is a commitment by national governments to the establishment and implementation of a coordinated plan of action, the report said.
Currently, only 28 countries are known to have national suicide prevention strategies, according to the report. Suicide occurs all over the world and can take place at almost any age. Globally, suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and over, the report said.
In some countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young. Notably, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally.
"This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long," said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
Generally, more men die by suicide than women. In richer countries, three times as many men die by suicide than women. Men aged 50 years and over are particularly vulnerable. In low- and middle-income countries, young adults and elderly women have higher rates of suicide than their counterparts in high-income countries, the report said.
Women over 70 years old are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than women aged 15-29 years. The report said reducing access to means of suicide is one way to reduce deaths.
Other effective measures include responsible reporting of suicide in the media, such as avoiding language that sensationalises suicide and avoiding explicit description of methods used, and early identification and management of mental and substance use disorders in communities and by health workers in particular.
Follow-up care by health workers through regular contact, including by phone or home visits, for people who have attempted suicide, together with provision of community support, are essential, because people who have already attempted suicide are at the greatest risk of trying again, the report said.