Government seeks to tackle rising rate of suicide

Government seeks to tackle rising rate of suicide

Health minister announces plan to combat trend that — at 500 deaths per year — now claims almost twice as many lives as car accidents

Health Minister Yael German (photo credit: Flash90)
Health Minister Yael German (photo credit: Flash90)

The Finance Ministry has approved a national plan for the prevention of suicide, Health Minister Yael German announced Tuesday at a meeting with the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

“By the end of today, statistics show, more than 16 people in Israel will try to kill themselves,” German said, according to a statement. “But suicide does not come as a bolt out of the blue. It is an act by a person who feels as if everything has closed on him and there is no way out, and he takes an action from which there is no return. But if there was someone by his side, if we’d reached him just a bit before the act and extended him a hand, we could have prevented it.”

The national budget for the prevention of traffic accidents has until today been more than that slated for suicide prevention, even though suicide claims almost twice as many lives each year, according to MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas). The suicide rate has risen steadily since 2007, when there were 290 cases of reported suicide. By 2010 there were 431, and this year there will be an estimated 500. Some 270 Israelis have been killed in traffic accidents so far this year.

Those high figures suggest a new government effort to prevent suicide is badly needed.

According to figures presented to the committee by the Knesset’s official Research and Information Center, 5,000 people are admitted to hospital each year after a failed suicide attempt. It marks the second-most common cause of death among men aged 15-24. The actual suicide rate is believed by researchers to be about 25% higher than the official figures due to cases that are misreported by survivors or victims’ families due to social stigma or insurance considerations.

“Another goal of the plan is to remove the stigma from the topic and put it on the table, so that people whose loved ones have committed suicide do not feel that they have a mark of shame on their forehead,” German said.

Suicide also has a negative effect on the economy, MKs heard. According to research figures presented in the committee, the combined direct and indirect costs of suicide reach NIS 2.5 billion ($700 million) per year. The vast majority of the costs incurred are indirect, such as time off from work taken by family members, mental health care for family members and the medical costs incurred in treating injuries sustained in failed suicide attempts.

MK Ya’akov Margi (Shas) called for the national prevention program to put an emphasis on populations that are disproportionately affected. In 2011, suicide was the number one cause of death among IDF soldiers, with 80% of incidents committed with an army-issued weapon. While the number of suicides in the IDF have decreased dramatically from 35 in 2005 to 14 in 2012, German said that the rate is still higher than among members of the same age group who are not serving in the military.

The suicide rate among young women is three times higher than that of young men. More than 90% of suicide cases involve people with various mental illnesses and 60% involve people who suffer from depression.

Dr. Shirley Avrami, director of the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, whose own father committed suicide, lauded the plan. After his death, she told MKs, “I found a letter in which he noted that he longs for the day when Israel will handle [suicide] as [they do] in other countries. I feel this day has come.”

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