Year: 2022 Source: BMC Psychiatry. (2022). 22, 424. SIEC No: 20220504

Decriminalizing suicide may decrease overall suicide rates because then individuals who are at risk of suicide would be more willing to seek help from the community and from mental health professionals, therefore enabling early interventions for preventing suicidality. We aimed to examine the suicide trends over the last 20 years in 20 countries that still criminalize attempted suicide, and to compare the suicide rates of these 20 countries against the global average suicide rate and to a comparison sample of 20 countries that do not criminalize suicide, matched according to region and majority religion.

Age-standardized suicide rates were extracted from the WHO Global Health Estimates, available for the period 2000-2019. Population data were extracted from the World Bank. We analyzed only countries which criminalize attempted suicide under its criminal justice system. Countries were further categorized according to their membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and countries in Africa. Countries from the same region and with the same majority religion were chosen as a matching group. Joinpoint analysis was used to compare the trends of the two groups with the global average.

Based on the 2019 WHO Global Health Estimates data, there is a large range in the suicide rates of the countries that criminalize attempted suicide, from 2.5 (Brunei) to 40.9 (Guyana) per 100,000 population. The mean suicide rate was 8.3 (Standard Deviation = 10.6). Out of the 20 countries, seven have suicide rates higher than the global average, covering a total population of about 387.3 million. Of these seven countries, five are in the African region. The other thirteen countries have suicide rates between 2.5 to 8.2. Mean scores of the countries which criminalized attempted suicide was lower than the global average and 20 comparison countries over the 20 years, but average annual percentage in the decrease of suicide was greater for countries in which attempted suicide was not criminalized.

Based on our review, there was no substantial evidence here to indicate that countries which criminalized attempted suicide had consistently lower suicide rates compared to the global average. There is a need to acknowledge that the currently available evidence is inadequate to definitively claim that criminalizing suicide is beneficial or harmful for the reduction of suicide rate for the entire populations. Future studies should continue to evaluate the unique effects of decriminalizing attempted suicide while controlling for other key associated factors.