'UK's suicide rate highest among middle-aged men'

Behind the Headlines

Wednesday February 19 2014

Suicide rates are higher in men than women

Men: more at risk of suicide?

Suicide rates were in the news, with The Guardian reporting that men are at higher risk than women and The Daily Telegraph saying that middle-aged men are the highest risk group.

The stories are based on a report on suicides in the UK for 2012. It reveals that overall, the number of people committing suicide was slightly lower, but not significantly different from the rate in 2011.

What is being done to prevent suicides?

There is a cross-government strategy on reducing the number of suicide deaths. It identified middle-aged men as one of the high-risk groups who should be a priority for suicide prevention.


The government recently published a report on progress one year on from the launch of the suicide prevention strategy. This looks in depth at the trends in suicide statistics and what effect actions across health services, police and prisons are having.

Suicide rates have generally been in decline since they started being recorded in 1981.

However, the official figures show that male suicide rates are more than three times higher than females. The highest suicide rate was among men aged 40 to 44 at 25.9 deaths per 100,000.

In England, suicide rates were highest in the northwest and lowest in London.


Where does the report on suicides come from?

The new report on suicides in the UK for 2012 has been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is a government body which collects national and local data on social and economic issues.


What did the ONS report on suicides find?

The ONS found that:

  • In 2012, there were 5,981 suicides in people aged 15 and over in the UK, 64 fewer than in 2011.
  • The UK suicide rate was 11.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2012.
  • Male suicide rates were more than three times higher at 18.2 male deaths compared with 5.2 female deaths per 100,000 population.
  • The highest suicide rate was among men aged 40 to 44, at 25.9 deaths per 100,000 population.
  • The most common methods of suicide were hanging, strangulation and suffocation (58% of male and 36% of female suicides) and poisoning (43% of female and 20% of male suicides).
  • In 2012 in England, the suicide rate was highest in the northwest at 12.4 deaths per 100,000 and lowest in London at 8.7 per 100,000.


How does the number of suicides in 2012 compare to previous years?

The ONS report includes suicide rates, broken down by age and sex, since 1981. These show that overall suicide rates have declined over the last 32 years. In women they have almost halved, from 10.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1982 to 5.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012.

Among men the fall in suicide rates was far smaller, from 19.8 deaths per 100,000 in 1982 to 18.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012.

However in both groups, but particularly in men, the suicide rate did not decline consistently over this period but fluctuated from year to year. Male suicide rates increased in the 1980s and peaked at 21.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1988. There were also notable annual rises – such as between 1989 and 1990 when the suicide rate rose from 19.8 per 100,000 to 21.2 deaths per 100,000 and again between 1997 and 1998, when rates rose from 19.0 to 21.1 per 100,000.

Among some age groups of men, suicide rates are higher than in 1981. For example, in 1981 the suicide rate among men aged 40-44 was 21.5 per 100,000. In 2012 the rate was 25.9 per 100,000.


How did the ONS obtain the figures on suicides?

The ONS collects mortality data across the UK, including information on the cause of death, certified and coded by a doctor or coroner.

Researchers calculate suicide rates per 100,000, making allowances for the differences in age structure of the population over time and between sexes. They also calculate whether differences in suicide rates are statistically significant, using 95% confidence intervals.


How accurate is the media reporting?

The media reporting was generally accurate. The Daily Telegraph included views from experts that the spike in suicides among middle aged men could be due to loss of traditional male jobs in heavy industry as well as social changes in the family. Changing habits such as greater openness among women and younger men talking about their problems, said the paper, had “passed many middle aged men by”.


Why are suicide rates among middle aged men higher than in other groups?

The ONS report does not address the reasons for any differences or fluctuations in suicide rates. There is speculation that economic factors play a part. The Samaritans suggest that men in the lowest socioeconomic groups and living in the most deprived areas were the highest risk group for suicide.

The charity believes the internet may also have a role in suicidal behaviour, and it has announced that it is carrying out research with Bristol University into the role the internet plays for those with suicidal thoughts.


If someone has suicidal thoughts what can they do?

If you have thoughts about taking your own life, it's important you ask someone for help.

Many people who have had suicidal thoughts say they were so overwhelmed by negative feelings they felt they had no other option. However, with support and treatment they were able to allow the negative feelings to pass. If you are feeling suicidal, there are people you can talk to who want to help:

  • speak to a friend, family member or someone you trust as they may be able to help you calm down and find some breathing space
  • call the Samaritans 24-hour support service on 08457 90 90 90
  • go to, or call, your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and tell the staff how you are feeling
  • contact NHS 111
  • make an urgent appointment to see your GP

Read more about getting help if you're feeling suicidal.

If you are worried that someone you know may be considering suicide, try to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Listening is the best way to help. Try to avoid offering solutions and try not to judge. If they have previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, you can speak to a member of their care team for help and advice.

Read more about suicide warning signs and how you can help someone with suicidal thoughts.


Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices.
Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.
Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Suicide generation fears for middle aged men. The Daily Telegraph, February 19 2014

Male suicide rate in UK discovered to be three and a half times that of women. The Guardian, February 19 2014

Study to examine impact of internet on suicide rates. Daily Mirror, February 19 2014

Further reading

Office for National Statistics. Suicides in the United Kingdom, 2012 Registrations. February 18 2014

Press releases

University of Bristol. New project investigates the internet's impact on suicide. February 18 2014

Samaritans. Samaritans' comment on the 2012 Office for National Statistics suicide figures. February 18 2014


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