Wales suicide rates up 30% in two years - ONS figures

media captionMiddle-aged men remain the most likely group to die by suicide

Suicide rates in Wales have risen 30% in two years to the highest level since 2004 and are higher than England.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed the rate up from 10.7 per 100,000 people in 2009 to 13.9 in 2011.

The 2011 total was 341, up from 288 in 2010. The England rate is 10.4/100,000.

The Welsh government said there were yearly fluctuations, but it had been feared the economic downturn could lead to a higher suicide rate.

Some of the increase may be down to a change in the way deaths were recorded by coroners following new guidance.

Wales had a greater number of deaths than any English region. North-east England is the next highest at 12.9 per 100,000.

The Samaritans in Wales said high unemployment and difficult economic times had an impact on suicide rates, but said there were a number of factors and could not single out one specifically.

The deaths were most prevalent among middle-aged men, with the rate among those aged 40 and 44 at its highest since 1981.

Simon Hatch, director of Wales Samaritans, told BBC News it was likely that some of the numbers quoted were from a real rise in deaths, but said there were some issues around how deaths were coded [classified] for statistical purposes.

He explained that coroners had been given guidance on the use of intentional self-harm in narrative verdicts, which give a longer explanation at inquests about how someone died rather than the use of short-form verdicts such as suicide or accidental death.

"In other words, more deaths were counted as intentional self-harm," he said.

"We think this was a guidance to coroners because over the years we have seen narrative verdicts increase. This could be one of the causes of the increase [in the suicide rate].

Differing levels

He said it was possible a rise in undetermined deaths could also add to the numbers.

"There may be coding reasons behind some of these, but we remain worried about any increase in suicide and in particular the increase in the rate since 2009."

Speaking about the high rate among middle-aged men, he said: "Samaritans research shows that disadvantaged men in mid-life today are facing a perfect storm of challenges - unemployment, deprivation, social isolation, changing definitions of what it is to be a man, alcohol misuse, labour market and demographic changes have had a dramatic effect on their work, relationships and very identify.

"We also found that men judge themselves against a gold standard of masculinity set by society and when they can't meet these expectations they can feel worthless, unvalued, a deep sense of shame and that there is no reason for them to live."

Mr Hatch also pointed to the differing levels of suicide rates in Wales and England, with the Welsh rate 28% higher compared to broadly similar ones 20 years ago.

He reminded anyone feeling suicidal or depressed that the Samaritans were available to give support 24 hours a day on the telephone or online.

A Welsh government spokeswoman said: "Although, sadly, we saw an increase in the number of people taking their own lives between 2010 and 2011, it is important to acknowledge we do witness year-to-year fluctuations.

'Raise awareness'

"As the statistics point out, suicide numbers increased in England and the UK as a whole in 2011.

"To make valid comparisons with Welsh statistics, we need to look at areas with similar populations.

"This means Wales would tend to compare with the north east and north west of England, where rates are similar to Welsh figures.

"It had always been feared rates might rise owing to the economic downturn and increases in the rate of unemployment.

"Sadly this prediction proved correct, despite action to try to mitigate the effects. Talk to Me, our national action plan to reduce suicide and self-harm sets out action to be taken to raise awareness of suicide and self-harm, which is often preventable."

The Freephone Community Advice and Listening Line (CALL) numbers are 0800 132737 or 81066. The Samaritans on available on 08457 90 90 90.

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