One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds, an avoidable tragedy that fails to grab attention because of taboos and stigma, a UN report says.
A landmark report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for national suicide prevention strategies to be implemented world wide.
In 2012, Southeast Asian countries made up over a third of annual suicides - around 39 per cent, but only had 26 per cent of the global population, the report found.
It also found the global rate was put at 11.4 per 100,000, with men almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives.
Researchers studied 172 countries to produce the report, which capped a decade of research, comparing suicide rates between genders and age groups of a country.
Data around suicide deaths and attempts is often unreliable. Suicide is still illegal in some countries and in others suicide deaths are commonly misclassified.
The WHO report, called 'Preventing suicide: A global imperative', now provides a way to determine who is most at risk, as well as providing indications on the best suicide prevention approach.
"We have a recent example from Asian areas, India and Sri lanka, where the control of pesticides substantially and dramatically sometimes reduce the number of suicides," says Professor Diego De Leo, Director of the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University and one of the reports co-authors.
"Suicide is today a recognised emergency, a major public health problem," he says.
This emergency exists depite the fall in global suicide deaths by around nine per cent since 2000.
The suicide rate in Australia has dropped by 10.6 per cent in that same period.
"Using the same estimates, the WHO report for 2000, nearly 890 thousand deaths and for the present report data which is the latest available, the year 2012, the amount globally is for 803,900 cases," says Professor De Leo.
The WHO report categorises the data into two groupings: high income countries, and low and middle income countries.
"The gender distribution of suicide deaths, people may think it is always three to one for example, one female suicides for three male suicides," Professor De Leo told SBS.
"But this can be true only in high income countries. In middle and low income countries it's one to 1.5. And there are countries that see the prevailing figure for females which doesn't exist in high income countries.
"Certainly there is no mystery, in terms of numbers, youth and elderly women can be very relevant in low and middle-income countries while in a high income country like Australia the biggest concentration of deaths by suicide is in middle aged and males, also in females but middle aged," he says.
The report is designed to be a how-to-guide to aid countries in developing and improving national suicide prevention strategies.
Health advocates say Australia needs a higher target
Sue Murray, CEO at Suicide Prevention Australia and spokesperson for the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention, says the WHO goal is not ambitious enough.
"The national coalition has set its target not at a 10 per cent reduction in suicides in 10 years but in fact a 50 per cent reduction in suicides in ten years," says Ms Murray.
"At the moment each of the states have a strategy. We have a framework called 'Living is for Everyone' at a national level, but we don't have anything that actually sets down some clear directions, some clear strategies and some clear targets," she says.
To do this Ms Murray points to the need for accurate data in order to effectively design suicide prevention programs.
"At the moment we are only able to collect data around deaths as a result of suicide. We need to understand what attempts are occuring in Australia... This will give us a much better picture of the whole issue."
Anyone seeking support and information about suicide prevention is encouraged to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
- With AFP