Risk to men shown in suicide rates

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Health Editor

There have been significant rises in the suicide rates for men in Britain and the Irish Republic, according to the first Europe-wide survey of suicide.

In Spain, however, it is the rise in suicide by women that is a cause for concern, while Luxembourg has experienced the biggest increase in suicide deaths in the last 10 years.

The highest suicide rates in the European Union are in Denmark - almost three times that of the UK and 2.5 times higher than the death toll from road accidents. Greece has by far the lowest number of suicides at just under 4 per 100,000 of population, followed by Spain at 7.5 and Italy at 7.6, although levels are rising in these countries.

The report, by Befrienders International, the international arm of the Samaritans, also highlights the plight of the "solitary young male" who cannot communicate his distress except via his computer. Eighty per cent of contacts to the Samaritans service on the Internet are about suicidal feelings.

Vanna Scott, director general of Befrienders International, warned that suicide was a major avoidable cause of death, claiming the lives of 43,822 people a year in the 12 member states studied between mid-1994 and May 1995 - a rate of 12.67 per 100,000.

Fewer than half of the countries surveyed had a national policy on suicide and there is no EU suicide prevention policy. Suicide prevention services are minimal or fragmented in many countries, and education is also lacking. "Unless you inform people of the risk of suicide people are not going to be able to talk about it and express their fears," Ms Scott said.

Ms Scott said that the comparatively low rates in some southern European countries may be due to a strong Catholic tradition in which suicide is a taboo subject. "But the extended family is still in place in many of these countries," Ms Scott added. "Where you have an integrated system you tend to have support for the individual."

In Denmark, where the suicide rate is significantly lower than it was a few years ago, there is no obvious explanation for the alarming number of deaths.

The report recommends that suicide is given a higher priority by EU states, which should develop national policies with investment in publicising awareness and prevention services.

9 Study of Suicide Prevention within the European Community, price pounds 15 from Befrienders International, 23 Elysiun Gate, 126 New Kings Road, London SW6 4LA.