Are we under-reporting suicide rates? Findings of a new systematic review

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World Health Organization statistics estimate the global annual suicide rate to be 16 per 100,000 people or about one million people per year. The rate of suicide attempts is about 10-15 times higher than the actual suicide rate.

There is considerable variation between countries, with some national mortality statistics reporting no suicides per 100,000 people (e.g. Egypt, Haiti and Honduras) and others reporting 30 suicides per 100,000 people per year (e.g. Belarus, Russia and Lithuania).

This new systematic review carried out by researchers from Oslo University aims to assess the reliability of suicide statistics through a systematic review of the international literature.

The authors searched a range of databases and found 31 studies to include in their analysis, published between 1963 and 2009.

Here’s what they found:

  • 13 studies reported fairly reliable suicide statistics or under-reporting of 0–10%
  • Of the 31 studies during the 46-year period:
    • 52% found more than 10% under-reporting
    • 39% found more than 30% under-reporting or poor suicide statistics

The reviewers concluded:

There is a lack of systematic assessment of the reliability of suicide statistics. Few studies have been done, and few countries have been covered. The findings support the general under-reporting of suicide. In particular, nationwide studies and comparisons between countries are lacking.

Tollefsen IM, Hem E, Ekeberg O. The reliability of suicide statistics: a systematic review (Provisional PDF). BMC Psychiatry. 2012 Feb 14;12(1):9. [Epub ahead of print]

If you need help

If you need help and support now and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, please call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you live elsewhere, we recommend finding a local Crisis Centre on the IASP website.

We also highly recommend that you visit the Connecting with People: Staying Safe resource.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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