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Why is the suicide rate higher in some areas

Warning: This contains references to suicide. 

Canada ranks in the top 10 of highest suicide rates in the Americas, a new study by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) study found.

According to the research, Canadian men and women had the 6th highest suicide rate in 2019 out of the 33 countries examined in North, Central and South America.

Within the Americas in 2019, Guyana had the highest suicide mortality rate for both males (64.96 per 100,000 population) and females (16.95 per 100,000 population), while Barbados had the lowest rate (males: 0.48 per 100,000 population; females: 0.16 per 100,000 population).

The study, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas on Feb. 23, is the “first of its kind” to examine specific contextual factors associated with national suicide rates in the Americas.

Using health data from the World Health Organization Global Health Estimates, researchers found eight population-level factors impacting suicide rates.

According to the research, alcohol use, education inequality, health expenditure, homicide rate, intravenous drug use, number of employed doctors, population density and unemployment rate affect a region’s suicide rate.

“By quantifying the associations between these specific factors and country-level suicide rates, we can provide decision-makers with the evidence they need to create effective national suicidal prevention strategies,” Dr. Shannon Lange, Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, said in a press release dated Feb. 23. “Our results indicate that multi-sectoral measures targeting health and social well-being should be emphasized.”

Over the past 20 years, suicide rates in the rest of the world have been decreasing, the authors say, but suicide rates in North, Central and South America are increasing.

Age-standardized suicide mortality rate among males and females and the trend over time in the Region of the Americas, 2000–2019. (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)

North America has the highest rate of suicide with 14.1 per 100,000 people compared to the Andean Area in South America which has the lowest rate of suicide with 3.9 per 100,000 people.

The study found factors impact men and women differently. For example, when there is unequal distribution of academic resources, the suicide rate increases among females in particular, the research says.

“Our findings highlight the vital importance of considering gender differences when developing, adapting and testing suicide risk reduction initiatives,” Dr. Lange said in the press release. “Gender norms and expectations are likely to influence suicide risk factors so it can’t be a one-size fits all approach.”

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If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.  

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