Suicide rates among young men (ages 19-30) are rising in some countries including Brazil, Ireland, Lithuania and Singapore. However, new research published in The Lancet shows that very few studies published over the last decade distinguish factors which identify those at greatest risk.

The study, conducted by Dr Alexandra Pitman of University College London (UCL) Mental Health Sciences Unit, UK, also found that very few studies examined which prevention interventions are effective in young men.

Globally, suicide is the second most common cause of death in young men.

Research into suicide in young men faces similar problems as research into adolescent suicide, particularly underestimation of suicide rates and misattribution of deaths to accidents. Studies have also shown that social media sites may encourage suicide.

Although the rates of suicide in young men are similar in developed and developing countries, self-inflicted death does account for a higher proportion of deaths in high-income countries due to the greater contribution of violence and road deaths in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the researchers, in many countries, the risk of suicide is highest among middle-aged men. Only in rural India and China do more young women die by suicide than young men.

In countries, such as the United States, England, Wales, Australia, and China the overall suicide rate among young is decreasing. However, the team found that these rates appear to be increasing among young men living in rural areas of England, Wales and Australia.

The researchers also found that white men in South Africa, first-generation Eastern European and Caribbean immigrants to England and Wales, and the indigenous populations of Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, had the highest rates of suicide.

Dr Pitman explained:

“The specific risk factors for suicide that affect young men are poorly understood, with few studies having specifically examined them or the effectiveness of suicide prevention interventions in young men.

The reasons for having neglected this area of research are the difficulties in designing studies large enough to assess these factors. Besides the tragic consequences of each suicide death for family and friends, the worldwide economic and social costs of suicide in this group are substantial. The cost of each young man dying by suicide in the UK has been estimated as £1.67 million in 2009 prices.

Ongoing concerns about the health outcomes of young men suggest that public health agencies should focus on identifying effective local means of preventing accidental death and suicide in this group.”

Although efforts to restrict the way in which young men attempt suicide have been successful in Scotland and Sri Lanka, Dr Pitman highlights: “Unfortunately, the methods common in high income countries (especially hanging) are also the hardest to restrict.” He states that statutory agencies should further investigate areas, such as encouraging young men to seek help -particularly depression and substance misuse.

Written By Grace Rattue