The Suicide-Safer Community designation stems from decades of work by countries and organizations around the world to develop strategies and programs for increasing community safety and access to helping resources. In 1989, a conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden in response to the urgent need for accident and injury prevention, including intentional injury and suicide prevention. Injury among children and young adults was identified as the number one cause of death and a major health problem affecting virtually every country. Delegates from 50 countries gathered to identify the problem and strategize around a need for action. The result was a Manifesto for Safe Communities which identified “safety as a universal concern and responsibility for all”. To date, there are over 350 Safe Communities Network Members adhering to indicators for an International Safe Community.
A Safe Community movement is also needed in response to suicide. Although identified in the Stockholm manifesto, the primary focus of Safe Communities has been prevention of unintentional injury. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014), every 40 seconds, someone somewhere in the world dies by suicide. Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people 15-29 years of age (ibid, page 9). Suicides occur in all regions of the world and across the lifespan. For every suicide, there are many more who have their own lived experience with suicide and/or are bereaved by suicide. The effect of each life lost to suicide is far-reaching, not only for the one engaging in the behaviour, but to their families, communities and countries.
In 1993, the United Nations/World Health Organization inter-regional meeting of experts in Calgary, Canada, hosted by LivingWorks Education and the Centre for Suicide Prevention with Canadian funding support, played key roles in producing Prevention of Suicide: Guidelines for the formulation and implementation of national suicide prevention strategies, published by the United Nations in 1996. Efforts in the United States led by “passionate grassroots activists stimulated Congressional Resolutions declaring suicide prevention a national priority”. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, published in 1999, resulted in removing suicide from its national mental health strategy to develop a separate National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Surgeon General David Satcher described this new initiative as “the strategy of the American people for improving their health and well-being through the prevention of suicide" (National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, 2001). In 2002, the Scottish government launched Choose Life, a national strategy and action plan to prevent suicide, as a key part of their National Programme to Improve Mental Health and Well-Being. These strategies demonstrated two viable start-up methods, citizen- or government-initiated and two strategy outcome options, stand-alone or integrated within a broader mental health and well-being strategy. In 2012 the World Health Organization, building on the foundation of the United Nations guidelines, published Public Health Action for the Prevention of Suicide: A Framework as a step wise guide for developing a suicide prevention strategy.
In 2013, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a global survey on suicide prevention to determine what strategies and activities were already in place (WHO, 2014). Twenty-eight countries identified as having a national strategy or action plan for the prevention of suicide (ibid, page 49). Of those countries that did not have a national strategy, there were a range of suicide prevention activities carried out in 47 countries, and 13 countries identified having a national strategy or action plan under development (ibid, page 49-50).
Suicide is a serious community health problem and it requires a community response. A Suicide-Safer Community Movement, organized locally, addressing specific community needs and championed by local advocates and supporters on a multi-sectoral level can help address the problem of suicide. Local efforts to create suicide-safer communities should be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported. The Suicide-Safer Community Designation is one way of honoring these efforts.