Loss of life is a tragic reality of the human experience that is only compounded when that loss is avoidable. Suicide has long been one of those avoidable yet ever-present tragedies and, in the last few decades, has been a thoroughly-discussed social subject.
From hotlines to support groups, much headway has been made in reducing the taboo that is traditionally associated with suicide and related topics. Where that headway seems to fall flat is in the reduction of suicide numbers.
A new study published in BMJ, Global, regional, and national burden of suicide mortality 1990 to 2016: systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, draws a conclusion based on two separate ways of interpreting data: the raw numbers and the numbers adjusted for age standardization.
Looking at the unadjusted numbers paints a bleak picture—the number of suicides increased by 6.7% between 1990 and 2016—but that data only tells part of the story. When adjusted for age standardization, the global suicide rate actually dropped by approximately 1/3 in the same time period.
How is that possible? It all comes down to the interpretation of the data and how one understands the terms at play.
When looked at through the lens of age standardization, there has been a significant decrease in suicide rates from 1990 to 2016—a decrease of 34.2%, in fact.
Simply put, age standardization factors years of life lost rather than the number of lives lost. This differentiation can give a more nuanced perspective of global suicide rates.
While age-standardized suicide rates fell globally, certain demographics saw more significant decreased. For example, men experience a significantly higher rate of suicide than women. The reduction in suicides among men was also lower than the reduction among women.
A bit more consistency was seen in the reduction of suicide rates in certain regions. For example, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceana saw a relatively steady decline, while regions like Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia saw fluctuations but an overall decline. Other regions included in the study also saw their age-standardized suicide rates fall.
While the conclusions made by this study could be interpreted in numerous ways, two of the primary standouts are: headway has been made in reducing the impact of suicide and men still face higher rates of suicide.
Perhaps most importantly, this research provides an alternate, more positive perspective that is reinforced with numerical data. If this trend continues, even more strides in the right direction are to come.