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Suicide is an enormous health problem all over the world. Russian researchers have learned that our assumptions about the methods people will use to commit suicide are often incorrect.

Suicide is an important health issue all over the world. Globally, some 700,000 people per year take their own lives. Possibly because of the nearly universal taboo against suicide, few scientists have made a serious attempt to identify the populations most at risk. What researchers know about suicide is generally limited.

  • In most of the world, women are two and one-half times more likely to try to commit suicide, but men are nearly twice as likely to succeed in their attempts. This difference is also reflected in the rankings of causes of death. In the United States, for example, in 2007 suicide was the fifteenth most common cause of death among women, but the seventh most common cause of death among men.
  • With one important exception which we will consider a little later in this article, the lighter your skin, the more likely you are to commit suicide. The world's highest suicide rate is Finland, which has a largely fair-skinned population. In the United States, citing data for 2007, the rate of suicide for white men in 2007 was 13.5 cases per 100,000 population; for black men, 5.1 cases per 100,000 population; and for Hispanic men, 6.0 cases per 100,000 population.
  • Women who own cats are more likely to commit suicide. In a study conducted in Denmark, women who had been infected with the microorganism Toxoplasma gondii,which is spread by contact with kitty litter, were 53 percent more likely to commit suicide.
  • In the US and UK, the very highest rates of suicide occur in men who are 75 years or older. In some cities in England, men over 60 are as much as 67 times more likely than the general population to attempt self-harm. 
  • Police officers, firefighters, and doctors, especially physicians in training and physicians who take care of the terminally ill are much more likely than the rest of the population to attempt suicide.
  • In the United States, people actually aren't more likely to commit suicide during the long holiday period extending from Thanksgiving to Christmas and ending New Year's week. November and December have the lowest suicide rates of the year. Early spring, which may arrive from late January to late May according to location, has the highest suicide rates in the US, and in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
These facts don't tell the whole story. Groups that live in isolation, it turns out, have much higher rates of suicide, and need particular attention in suicide prevention efforts. 
In the US, about one in sixteen teens actually attempts suicide in any given year. In both the United States and the European Union, teens who identify themselves at "Goth," "Emo," or "Punk" or three times more likely to commit suicide than other teens, and up to about half manage to commit self-harm every single year. Self-harm is also common among teens who feel isolated because they are "Jocks," but this self-harm usually takes place in the context of athletic competition.

Isolated people, especially adolescents and the aged, need frequent contact. When it comes to stopping the act itself, suicide prevention programs may have to be very different for isolated groups.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Sumarokov YA, Brenn T, Kudryavtsev AV, Nilssen O. Variations in suicide method and in suicide occurrence by season and day of the week in Russia and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Northwestern Russia: a retrospective population-based mortality study. BMC Psychiatry. 2015 Sep 23
  • 15(1):224. doi: 10.1186/s12888-015-0601-z.
  • Photo courtesy of Jared Keener:
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