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SDG3: Suicide in the Commonwealth

Every year in excess of 700 000 people take their own life and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally. The Commonwealth has a significantly higher suicides per capita compared to the rest of the world.

Newly published global health estimates from the World Health Organization highlight the pressing challenge of suicide globally. Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries, but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the Commonwealth. Estimates suggest that more than 75% of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries.

One of the reasons touted by the WHO and research released by United for Global Mental Health is the criminalization of suicide. Fifteen countries in the Commonwealth out of a total of 20 globally criminalize suicide, with some laws dating as far back as 160 years ago. Penalties for suicide attempts can be as severe as three years in prison.

The criminalisation of suicide deters individuals from seeking help in a moment of acute crisis and potentially placing them in facilities where they may not receive the support they need. To date, only a few countries have included suicide prevention among their health priorities and only 38 countries report having a national suicide prevention strategy.

Raising community awareness and breaking down the taboo is important for countries to make progress in preventing suicide.

Across the Commonwealth, access to hospital beds, as measured by the number of beds available per thousand people in a country’s population, has been in decline, according to the latest data available.

The Commonwealth average for hospital beds-to-population ratio stood at 2.73 beds per 1,000 people in 2010, compared to the world average of 2.70, reflecting a drop of nearly 26 per cent in bed capacity when compared with the Commonwealth average in the year 2000. The average for all the regions of the Commonwealth was below the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for every country to have a minimum five beds per 1,000 people.

With an average of less than 0.90 hospital beds per 1,000 thousand people, Bangladesh, Belize, Gambia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Tanzania were the Commonwealth countries with the lowest capacity to offer in-patient treatment over the 10-year period tracked in this data set.