Two years ago, a new private, nonprofit organization called Suicide
Prevention International (SPI) was launched to bring suicide experts from
around the world together to better understand suicides in various countries,
explore what might work to prevent them, and fund promising suicide prevention
projects (Psychiatric News, December 15, 2006).
One of SPI's latest initiatives has been to conduct a survey on suicide in
Asian countries for the World Health Organization (WHO). The survey results
have now been published by WHO, and they contain several important and
surprising findings, Herbert Hendin, M.D., CEO and medical director of SPI,
told Psychiatric News.
First there is "the incredible shortage of qualified doctors as well
as other health care personnel—nurses, psychologists, social
workers—in the rural areas of China," Hendin said. A second
problem is "the inability of many of the [Asian] countries to ascertain
and record deaths due to suicide." And a third issue is that "the
cultural, social, and religious stigma attached to suicide extends to the
families of the deceased. In Pakistan and India [in fact], suicide is still
illegal. This [evidence of stigma] results in the concealment of suicide, the
reluctance of patients who attempt suicide to seek treatment, and the
unwillingness of their families to encourage them to do
Some other thought-provoking results have also emerged from the survey,
such as the following:
Since it was founded two years ago, SPI has also implemented several major
suicide-prevention projects in rural China. For example, as Hendin explained,"
China, with 21 percent of the world's population, has between 30 and 40
percent of the world's suicides. Three quarters of the suicides [in China] are
in rural China.... [Unfortunately] it will be decades until China has enough
general practitioners or psychiatrists to serve the villages and towns of
rural China. [So] ... we are training [rural] clinic health workers to
recognize mental illness and suicide risk and to refer patients to county
psychiatric hospitals for diagnosis and treatment.... The project is being
implemented in a province of several million."
"If this succeeds, which we think it will, it's going to be
potentially a model for all of China," Hendin asserted. "The
Chinese government is involved in it. [Officials] have gone to the site, and
they want to be kept informed of its progress."
SPI is funded by individual donors, private foundations, and various
American, Asian, and European corporations. For instance, SPI's development
committee is headed by a telecommunications industry executive who lost her
daughter to suicide. She has gotten the telecommunication corporations Viacom,
BBC, and Turner Broadcasting Company to contribute funds to SPI.
Results from SPI's latest survey, "Suicide and Suicide
Prevention in Asia," are posted at