Most People Worry About Violence: But More People Die From Suicide Than From Homicide and War Combined

Nelson Mandela spent a lot of his life confronting violence.  In the introduction to the World Report on Violence and Health he says, “The twentieth century will be remembered as a century marked by violence. It burdens us with its legacy of mass destruction, of violence inflicted on a scale never seen and never possible before in human history. Less visible, but even more widespread, is the legacy of day-to-day,individual suffering. It is the pain of children who are abused by people who should protect them, women injured or humiliated by violent partners, elderly persons maltreated by their caregivers, youths who are bullied by other youths, and people of all ages who inflict violence on themselves.”

He concludes, “No country, no city, no community is immune. But neither are we powerless against it.”  According to the World Health Organization, there are three types of violence that are all inter-related:

  • Self-directed violence includes suicidal behavior and personal harm such as self-mutilation.
  • Interpersonal violence is divided into two categories:
    1.  Family and intimate partner violence—That is, violence largely between family members and intimate partners, usually, though not exclusively, taking place in the home.
    2.  Community violence—Violence between individuals who are unrelated, and who may or may not know each other, generally taking place outside the home.
  • Collective violence is the instrumental use of killing by people who identify themselves as members of a group against another group or set of individuals, in order to achieve political, economic or social objectives.  Collective violence takes a number of forms including:  armed conflicts within or between nations, genocide (the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group), terrorism, and organized violent crime.

Around the world, in 2010 self-harm took more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined, stealing more than 36 million years of healthy life across all ages.

Many researchers believe it’s a dramatic undercount, a function of fewer autopsies and more deaths by poison and pills, where intention is hard to detect. Ian Rockett of West Virginia University thinks the true rate is at least 30 percent higher, which would make suicide three times more common than murder.

Last fall the World Health Organization estimated that “global rates” of suicide are up 60 percent since World War II. And none of this includes the attempted suicides as well as the thoughts and plans that slowly eat away at people, and the corrosive social cost of 25 attempts for every one official death.

Although suicide impacts everyone, men are at much greater risk than are women, as the following statistics demonstrate:

Male and Female Suicide Death Rates and Gender Difference (Ratios)
By Age Group

          Age Group         Male Rate       Female Rate     Ratio Male/Female
             10-14             1.4               0.8                    1.8
             15-19            10.9               2.7                  4.0
             20-24            21.4               4.0                  5.4
             25-29            19.5               4.7                  4.2
             30-34            18.3               5.2                  3.5
             35-44            23.9               6.8                  3.5
             45-54            25.8               8.8                  2.9
             55-64            21.4               7.0                  3.1
             65-74            21.5               3.4                  6.3
             75-84            27.3               3.9                  7.0
             85+            38.6               2.2                17.5
            All ages            17.8               4.6                   3.9
Suicide rates per 100,000 U.S. Population
Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 58, 1, 2009. Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010). [cited 2012 Oct 19] Available from

These statistics reveal that there are important differences in suicide between men and women at all ages. (Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 58, 1, 2009)

  • The suicide rate for males is, on average, nearly 4 times higher throughout the life-span than it is for females.
  • The highest rate for females (8.8) is between 45 and 54.
  • The highest rate for males (38.6) is over 85 and contrasts dramatically with the rate for 85+ females (2.2).
  • The male/female ratio is greatest as men retire and age:  6.3 times higher for men than for women age 65 to 74, 7 times higher for men than for women 75 to 84, and 17.5 times higher for men than for women 85+.

 We Can All Help Prevent Suicide

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-sponsoring World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. The theme of this 11th anniversary event is “Stigma: A Major Barrier for Suicide Prevention.”  We all know people who are dealing with issues that make them vulnerable to suicide.  We can reach out, learn what we can do to prevent suicide, and help save lives.

One simple way to do that is to learn about the activities of World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2013.  You can get more information here: 


Related Posts:

Like what you read here? Get more like it delivered to your inbox every Sunday. Enter your name and email.


  1. Jed,
    This is shocking to me. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. A dear friend of my from high school led a tormented life as a gay man. He took his own life. Many people see this as self-inflicted, but do we not, as a society, share in the responsible for our torment and apathy? I believe the answer to Cain’s biblical question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a resounding “yes!” Let us open our hearts and minds to our brothers who are suffering and with our love, acceptance and support, help them to heal. Bless you for bringing this to our awareness.

  2. Lewis,

    Thanks for the comment. We can all do more as individuals and as a society to engage and reach out to offer support to each other at times of difficulty. We all can use a caring hand during many times of our lives.

  3. Frances says:

    I think this can be construed as a kind of good news. It’s good that homicides and war aren’t really taking as many lives as we sometimes think. It’s bad that the media is so intent on depressing us with news of homicides and war that people end up depressed and some of them end up committing suicide. Maybe life on this planet is nowhere near as horrible as we are being led to believe and the majority of us which actually lead productive, stable and interesting lives with no real harm coming to us along the way.