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Suicide death numbers fall over past 30 years

33% drop in global mortality from suicide since 1990

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 07 February 2019

The rate of deaths from suicide has fallen by almost a third since 1990 although the actual number has risen due to growing population numbers, finds a study* published by The BMJ today.

A study was carried out by an international team of researchers who analysed data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study, a project that tracks all known causes of death by country.

Suicide is a global public health concern and the World Health Organization (WHO) aims to reduce suicide mortality by a third between 2015 and 2030.

The researchers found that the total number of deaths from suicide increased by 6.7% globally between 1990 and 2016 to 817,000 deaths in 2016.

However, after taking into account age and population growth over this 27-year period, the global mortality rate from suicide fell by 32.7% worldwide from 16.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 1990 to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2016.

Analysis also showed that men had far higher mortality rates from suicide than women – 15.5 male deaths per 100,000 people compared with 7.0 female deaths per 100,000, but the rate of decrease was lower for men (24%) than for women (49%) over the study period.

Higher rates of suicide tended to be linked to higher levels of social and economic deprivation.

The authors said it was promising that both the global age standardised mortality rate and years of life lost rate from suicide had decreased by a third between 1990 and 2016.

Whether this decline was due to suicide prevention activities, or whether it reflected general improvements to population health, warranted further research.

This was an observational study and the researchers pointed to some limitations, such as under-reporting or misclassification of cause of death, but they concluded: “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.”

In a linked editorial**, Ellicott Matthay at the University of California, San Francisco, USA, agreed that the results should be interpreted with some caution, but said: “The findings will spur research that could inform future policy.”

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, she wrote.

“As new data and methods emerge, regular updating of suicide mortality estimates will be needed to inform research, policies, and recommendations with the best available evidence.”


*Naghavi M. Global, regional, and national burden of suicide mortality 1990 to 2016: systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. BMJ 2019;364:l94. DOI:10.1136/bmj.l94
**Matthay E C. Suicide falls by a third globally. BMJ 2019;364:l416. DOI:10.1136/bmj.l416

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