Suicides have soared globally to more than 800,000 in just one year.
The total number of deaths from suicide increased by 6.7 per cent between 1990 and 2016 to 817,000 in 2016, according to a new study published by The BMJ.
But researchers say that, when adjusted for age, the global mortality rate from suicide decreased by almost a third (33 per cent) worldwide over the same period.
The findings show that men had generally higher mortality rates from suicide than women, and that higher suicide rates tended to be linked to higher levels of social and economic deprivation.
But the researchers said their findings also show that suicide trends “vary substantially” between countries and different groups of people, reflecting a “complex interplay of factors” that warrant further investigation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) wanrs to reduce suicide mortality by one third between 2015 and 2030.
Identifying those most at risk is crucial if the goal is to be achieved, according to the international team of researchers.
They used figures from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study to describe patterns of suicide mortality and years of life lost globally and regionally, and by age, sex and socio-demographic index – a combined measure of fertility, income, and education – from 1990 to 2016.
The findings show total number of deaths from suicide increased by 6.7 per cent globally over the 27 year study period to 817,000 deaths in 2016.
Study author Professor Mohsen Naghavi, of the University of Washington in the US, said: “Suicide was the leading cause of age standardised years of life lost in the high income Asia Pacific region and was among the top 10 leading causes of death across eastern Europe, central Europe, high income Asia Pacific, Australasia, and high income North America.”
He said that, globally, suicide rates were higher for men – 15.6 deaths per 100,000 – than for women (seven deaths per 100,000).
The rate of decrease was lower for men (24 per cent) than for women (49 per cent).
Women also experienced higher rates than men in most countries with a low socio-demographic index.
Prof Naghavi said: ” Suicide continues to be an important cause of mortality in most countries worldwide, but it is promising that both the global age standardised mortality rate and years of life lost rate from suicide have decreased by a third between 1990 and 2016.
“Whether this decline is due to suicide prevention activities, or whether it reflects general improvements to population health, warrants further research”
The researchers said it was an observational study and limitations included under-reporting or misclassification of cause of death – especially in countries with religious and cultural sanctions against suicide.
But they say the results might actually be an underestimate of the true burden.
Prof Naghavi added: “Taken as a whole, these patterns reflect a complex interplay of factors, specific to regions and nations.
“Research must continue to build the evidence base for effective interventions that are sensitive to regional and national contexts to address this continuing public health concern.”
Dr Ellicott Matthay, of the University of California, San Francisco, agreed in an editorial that the results should be interpreted with some caution, but said the findings “will spur research that could inform future policy.”
She added: “Results could prove useful to governments, international agencies, donors, civic organisations, physicians, and the public to identify the places and groups at highest risk of self harm and to set priorities for interventions, particularly for countries without complete vital registration systems.
“Regular updating of suicide mortality estimates will be needed to inform research, policies, and recommendations with the best available evidence.”