With the suicide of Robin Williams still painfully fresh, the World Health Organization released a startling statistic today: Someone takes his or her own life every 40 seconds—which equates to about 800,000 deaths a year, reports the BBC. Other findings in the WHO study: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in people ages 15-29; 75% of suicides take place in lower-income countries; and people over 70 are the most likely to die this way. "Suicide kills more than conflicts, wars, and natural catastrophes," says WHO's mental health director in Yahoo News. Calling this often-stigmatized death a "major public health problem," WHO says its goal is to cut the suicide rate by 10% by 2020.
Some of the challenges in combating suicide are sensationalized media reports when a celebrity dies this way and people who are afraid to seek help for an issue that's "been shrouded in taboo for too long," according to WHO's director general. One WHO scientist says countries can simply start "at [the] local level" with small-scale programs, including services for at-risk people who have already attempted suicide. Others say more education is needed, including in schools. "There needs to be much more public awareness around suicide—too few of us know how to react when they see someone who may be at risk of taking their life," a suicide campaigner tells the BBC.