Opening speech of WHO Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo, at the Seoul Forum on Suicide Prevention in the Western Pacific Region

Seoul, Republic of Korea
13 September 2012

Honourable Vice-Minister Kun-Ik Shon(손건익), Ministry of Health and Welfare

Dr. Kang-Eui Hong(홍강의), Chairman, Korean Association for Suicide Prevention

Mr. Jong-Wool Park(박종률), Chairman, Korean Journalist Asssociation

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

Every year, about 800 000 people die by their own hand.

Almost one in four of these suicides happen in the Western Pacific Region.

That means about 600 lives are needlessly lost every day in the Region.

Suicide is among the top five causes of death — and the number one cause among adolescents and young adults — in some countries.

Worldwide, six out of 10 suicide victims are younger than 45 years of age.

The overall trend in the Region may be decreasing, but some countries are experiencing an alarming increase in suicide rates.

Most people never give suicide a second thought until it touches them directly.

We are prepared for the death of elderly parents, or the deaths of people we know with serious diseases.

But suicide catches us by surprise.

There are many myths and misconceptions about suicide.

These falsehoods — such as the one that suicide is not preventable — can hinder addressing the issue effectively.

The reality is most suicides can be prevented.

One method of prevention is to treat people with mental disorders that may lead to suicide.

These conditions include depression, schizophrenia and alcohol or substance abuse.

There are many ways to stop suicide… provided we use of the wealth of evidence and good practices we have regarding suicide prevention.

Among the most effective interventions is training health-care providers to spot the mental health triggers for suicide.

Primary health-care providers must be trained to diagnose and manage at-risk cases before they turn into tragic suicides.

This training is even more important in places where specialized mental health services and facilities are not readily available.

Training would allow community health workers to identify those at-risk for suicide so that they can refer them for more appropriate care.

Shame and discrimination about suicide are tough obstacles to overcome.

We can help dispel harmful misconceptions with accurate and readily available information, so that people seek help without worrying about being stigmatized.

But even for those seeking care, mental health services are not always available.

In many parts of the Region, hundreds of thousands of people with mental health disorders remain untreated.

This happens because the majority of low- and middle-income countries spend less than two percent of health budgets on mental health.

We must invest more in mental health services in the Region.

Suicide prevention is the responsibility of the entire society — from community groups to international organizations — but governments must take the lead in coordinating efforts.

Indeed, all of us must work together to address this shared concern and achieve our common goal—SAVING LIVES.

I wish you a productive meeting.

Thank you.