Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

What rates in different nations might tell us about suicide

Is homicide or suicide more of an issue?

What do you think - is homicide more common than suicide? Turns out, it depends on where you live. I received multiple e-mails about the tidbit in the New York Times "Freakonomics" blog last week on homicide and suicide rates worldwide.

Japan, for example, has a very low homicide rate, but a very high suicide rate. Jamaica has a very high homicide rate and a very low suicide rate. Outliers, as the blog points out, are some states of the Former Soviet Union, which have high homicide and suicide rates.

In the U.S., people are more likely to die by suicide than by homicide, a fact that, I think, if considered more thoughtfully, would perhaps differently direct sources of funding for suicide prevention.

What's interesting for me to consider is the potential protective factors that exist in places like Jamaica that keep suicide rates low. What is it about the environment, the culture, or the psychology of the people that keeps them from dying by suicide? Along the same lines, what are the risk factors that exist in places like Japan - or the U.S. - that make suicide more common? Most importantly, what can we do to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors?

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Discussions I've been involved in recently have made it clear how important it is to be specific about risk and protective factors. For example, religious community involvement is considered a protective factor. But, what is it about being involved in a religious community that is protective? Are there instances where being involved in a religious community is not protective? From a public health perspective, figuring out what risk factors are modifiable and which protective factors should be promoted is done on a large scale. Rather than considering what, in each individual, adds to risk or protection, public health looks at the big picture of environments that increase risk or protection. In the U.S., access to firearms increases risk, and certainly contributes to this country's high suicide rates.

How can we build protective factors and decrease risk factors across levels - from individual, to family, to community, to institutions, and to society - to impact suicide rates?

Copyright 2009 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.


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