One person committs suicide every two minutes in China

20 November 2003

According to reports in the media, a new national suicide prevention plan is being developed. The plan was announced at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop in Beijing hosted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the Suicide Research and Prevention Centre in Beijing.

According to Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative to China, one big problem in China was that the number of successful suicides is very high, primarily because of the effectiveness of the methods used – namely poison or pesticides. Bekedam said, “We have to make sure pesticides are not so easily accessible.”

In contrast to western countries where more than 90 per cent of people who commit suicide have suffered from mental illness, in China this figure is reportedly only 63 per cent. Experts at the conference point to the use of poison and other chemicals in impulse suicides. A study, released at the conference, reported that swallowing pesticide was the cause of 58 per cent of all mainland suicides.

The plan will also tackle other issues specific to rural areas, including the lack of properly trained counselors, the poor standard of emergency care and the low level of education.

An estimated 287,000 people kill themselves on the mainland every year and a further 2 million attempt suicide. According to statistics, one person dies of suicide and eight attempt suicide in every two minutes. The average age is 32 years old. The number of suicides in China has been increasing in recent years, in part because of rising financial difficulties faced in rural areas and the continuing isolation and ill treatment of women. Women under the age of 40 living in rural areas are the most vulnerable group, accounting for 50 per cent of all suicides. In China, the suicide rate is 25 recent higher for women, unlike the trend in Western nations where males are much more likely to take their lives than females. Women are the group most at risk of suicide and yet often the group most hard to reach out to. “Young women in rural areas are very isolated because they lack a social support network,” reported Marlys Bueber, training supervisor at the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre. In addition, most women shoulder the burden of household work and the running of the house in addition to work, raising children and being the main person responsible for contact with relations. Domestic violence is also on the rise in China and many women face these problems with little or no social support or help.

Suicide is a major public health problem in China, and is the leading cause of death among young adults and accounting for one third of deaths among young rural women in recent years, according to official data. According to official figures for 1995 to 1999, Chinese and US researchers conclude that there are about 287,000 suicides each year--a rate of 23 suicides per 100,000 people. Among males and females aged 15 to 34, suicide was the number-one killer, accounting for 19% of deaths, according to findings published in the British medical Journal, the Lancet on 9 March 2002.

On average, rural residents are three times more likely to commit suicide than urban dwellers and the gap between suicide rates among elderly rural and urban residents is unique to China. Elderly Chinese in rural areas, particularly women, have some of the highest reported suicide rates in the world.

The reasons for the differences between males and females, and urban and rural residents, are not fully understood but are believed to be primarily based on the low social status and limited opportunities of rural women in China. However, more research is needed into the issue as information on the topic remains difficult to assess, due to the wide difference in reporting of cases in China and the lack of a proper registration system.

In 1998, the World Health Organization reportedly estimated China's suicide rate to be higher than that in the current report--nearly 33 per 100,000. If this is true then China could account for up to 4 percent of all the worlds’ suicides and more than half of all female suicides.

SOURCES: South China Morning Post 20 November, 2003, the Lancet 9 March 2002, Peoples Daily 9 September 2003

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