World Suicide Prevention Day
World Suicide Prevention Day is held on September 10th each year. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. Disseminating information, improving education and training, and decreasing stigmatization are important tasks in such an endeavour. The theme in 2011 is "Preventing Suicide in Multicultural Societies".
The themes of the last two years of the World Suicide Prevention Day have focussed on suicide prevention in different cultures across the world. This year's theme aims at raising awareness of the fact that all countries in the world are multicultural. Many countries harbour different minority groups, in the form of various indigenous and/or immigrant groups, refugees and/or asylum seekers. Some countries comprise many different ethnic groups due to artificial borders having been drawn by former colonial powers. This means that in all countries there are a variety of ethnic and religious groups living in the same society.
Multicultural societies require cultural sensitivity in all suicide prevention efforts. However, a common mistake is to treat culture as something objective that explains differences. When we find differences between cultural groups in a society, e.g. suicide rates and risk factors, we tend to explain these in terms of cultural differences. This can, however, conceal the real reasons for differences that may or may not have something to do with culture at all. Examples of other factors that may be important are unemployment, poverty, oppression, marginalisation, stigmatisation, or racism. Moreover, culture is not a static or measurable variable; rather culture describes the dynamics evolving in an interaction between individuals and their surroundings. So, at the same time as we need to be culturally sensitive and aware of potential cultural differences, we must not let "culture" overshadow other important factors that might be at play. Neither must we overlook similarities in our vigilance to find differences.
The WHO estimates that about one million people around the world die by suicide every year. However, many countries still lack reliable suicide statistics, and even countries with reliable statistics may lack knowledge about the magnitude of the problem in (some of) their minority populations. This knowledge might also be challenging to acquire due to stigma having a larger impact in various minority groups compared to the majority. Nevertheless, such information is needed. Some studies have shown that suicide rates among immigrants are more similar to the suicide rates of those in their original country compared to the new country in which they have settled. Other studies, however, show that this varies across country and subgroup. Therefore, we need to be careful about drawing universal conclusions.
Risk factors for suicide vary across cultural groups. Knowledge about common risk factors in a society often stems from research in majority populations. However, in a multicultural context we need to be aware that some risk factors may play different roles in the suicidal process as well as in suicide prevention for some minority groups compared to the majority population. For instance, risk factors for elderly men in the majority population may have little relevance for young immigrant girls. In addition, other factors that might have a different impact on minorities compared to the majority population are attitudes towards suicidal behaviour and suicidal people (e.g. taboo, stigma), religion and spirituality, and family dynamics (gender roles and responsibilities).