Researchers say the overall trend is down thanks to poverty reduction and better healthcare
Suicides have fallen globally by more than a third since 1990, according to a far-reaching analysis that highlights profound differences in the number of men and women taking their own lives.
In results published in the BMJ journal on Thursday, a study estimates that 817,000 people killed themselves in 2016 – a slight increase of 6.7% since 1990.
However, as the global population has grown over the past three decades, the team on Global Burden of Disease – a project which tracks all known causes of death by country – found that the rate of suicide adjusted for age and population size fell from 16.6 to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people, a plunge of 32.7%.
“Suicide is considered a preventable cause of death and this study shows that we should continue in our efforts towards suicide prevention,” said Heather Orpana, research scientist with the Public Health Agency of Canada and a collaborator on the study.
“With further efforts we could take further reductions in suicide mortality.”
The World Health Organisation lists suicide as a critical public health issue and estimates at least 800,000 people kill themselves every year.
The Global Burden of Disease analysis, conducted each year by the Institute for Health and Metrics Evaluation, a thinktank partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, estimates mortality by cause, location, age and gender extrapolated from hundreds of data sources.
While welcoming the overall downwards trend, the team behind Thursday’s paper warned that in several regions of the world suicide was still among the leading causes of years of lives lost.
In 2016, 34.6 million years of life were lost globally from suicide – that is, the age when suicide deaths occur compared with average life expectancy in a given region or nation.
In addition, men were still more likely to take their own lives than women in all regions and age groups, apart from 15-19 year-olds, though the analysis did not speculate why.
“Mortality rates were generally higher for men but there was considerable variability between men and women depending on the age, and even the country,” Orpana told AFP.
Globally, men hugely outpaced women for suicides, suffering 15.6 deaths per 100,000 compared with 7.0 for women.
The study found that the overall global mortality rate, including all causes of deaths, had fallen by more than 30% since 1990, something often attributed to having fewer people living in absolute poverty and better access to healthcare.
The researchers highlighted huge variations in suicide trends from one country to another. In China the average rate of suicide deaths fell 64.1% since 1990, while in places such as Zimbabwe the rate had almost doubled in the same time-span.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.