Leading article: Ray of hope

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The Independent Online

It seems almost callous to analyse suicide as a statistical phenomenon. Is not each decision by a person to end their life by their own hand an individual tragedy, caused by particular circumstances which it is impossible for others to truly fathom? There is some truth in this. But, at the same time, when one does examine how the rates at which people have been committing suicide has changed over recent years, some significant patterns emerge.

There was a sharp rise in the suicide rate in Britain among men aged 15-34 during the 1980s and 1990s; a trend mirrored across the developed world. But, according to a report from the British Medical Journal, it has now begun to fall in the UK.

A number of theories have been put forward to explain this trend. Some are related to the fact that we are living in a "better" society, with lower unemployment and a lower divorce rate than 20 years ago. It is also suggested that greater preventive efforts by the authorities have paid dividends. These include the tightening up of security at suicide hotspots, reform of the design of catalytic converters and legislation governing the selling of painkillers. It seems likely that all these factors have played a part in bringing down the rate at which people take their own lives.

Particular suicides still have the power to disturb us. Allegations of an online suicide pact among young people in a South Wales town are the most recent example. We do right to take the problem seriously. But we should not lose sight of the welcome fact that – overall – suicide rates are coming down. Callous as it might seem, we need to be guided by the statistics.