General News — 25 June 2012

Suicide in young men in rural areas of Australia is increasing despite a drop in national rates for that age group, with Indigenous populations at particular risk, researchers say

A series of articles on suicide trends published by The Lancet today showed that the global suicide rate has increased by 45% over the past 45 years.

The rate in Australian men aged 20–34 years dropped from 40 per 100,000 in 1997–98 to 20 per 100,000 in 2003, but the authors warned that falling overall rates could mask worrying problems in specific regions, particularly rural areas, lower socio-economic groups, and particular ethnic groups.

Suicide rates amongst Indigenous men in Australia were among the highest in the world, with hanging the preferred method, the paper said. Rates were also especially high amongst Australian young male agricultural workers.

However, Australia was found to have one of the lowest rates of youth suicide (ages 15–24) with 12.2 per 100,000 for boys and 3.5 for girls in 2006.

Dr Keith Miller, a senior lecturer in social work and social planning at Flinders University, said there was a need to target access to prevention strategies for the most vulnerable groups.

He said: “Suicide in rural and remote communities is a public event. Everyone hears about it and has an opinion. We must not perpetuate the myth that suicide is shameful and needs to remain hidden.”

The Australian government announced in April that $12 million would be spent over four years to install preventive measures to reduce opportunity at known suicide hotspots as part of its mental health reform package.

Commenting on the Lancet series, Professor Gavin Andrews, director of UNSW School of Psychiatry at St Vincent’s Hospital, said that one in four people currently thinking about suicide will make an attempt in the next year.

His study of 300 primary care patients with depression found that the number of days where patients felt they would be ‘better off dead’ was halved after treatment.

He said: “Shouldn’t we be doing both things – treating those at risk of suicide and reducing access to the means to commit suicide?”

As first appeared in Medical Observer

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