The overall global death toll from suicide has risen by nearly 20,000 in the last 30 years, despite a significant fall in age-specific suicide rates during this period.
The analysis, published online in the journal Injury Prevention, showed that suicide rates are highest among those aged more than 70 in almost all regions of the world.
A team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong, drew on data from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2019, providing population estimates for 204 countries and territories for 1950-2019 by location, age, and sex.
The overall number of suicide deaths rose by 19,897 from 738,799 in 1990 to 758, 696 in 2019, with the sharpest rise in lower middle-income countries where the death toll rose by 72,550 from 232,340 to 304,890.
The main contributors to this increase were population growth (1,512.5 per cent), followed by changes in population age structure (952.5 per cent). But these effects were offset by the the substantial reduction in the age-specific suicide rates (minus 2,365 per cent).
The total number of male suicide deaths rose sharply, largely explained by male population growth (890 per cent) and changes in male population age structure (604 per cent). But these patterns weren’t universal, the researchers said.
The overall contribution of population age structure mainly came from the 45-64 (565 per cent) and 65 plus (529 per cent) age groups, a trend that was observed in middle-income and high-income regions, reflecting the global effect of population aging, say the researchers.
“As suicide rates are highest among the elderly (70 years or above) for both genders in almost all regions of the world, the rapidly ageing population globally will pose huge challenges for the reduction in the number of suicide deaths in the future,” warned reseachers including Dr Paul Siu Fai Yip, of the HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, at the varsity.
Increasing life expectancy and declining fertility will continue to affect global age structure, with populations around the world continuing to “experience pronounced and historically unprecedented ageing in the coming decades,” the researchers noted.