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High Suicide Rates in Asia Linked to Economic Woes, Culture


Sixty percent of all suicides worldwide happen in the Asia-Pacific region. Economic problems appear to be a major reason in cultures where suicide does not have a stigma attached. Claudia Blume in our Asia News Center in Hong Kong brings us more on the story.

Japan, Sri Lanka and parts of China report that more than 20 out of 100,000 of their citizens kill themselves each year - more than twice as many as in Australia or New Zealand.

Annette Beautrais - with the Canterbury Suicide Project in Christchurch, New Zealand - says that 60 percent of all suicides in the world occur in the Asia-Pacific region and economics is a big factor.

"In a number of countries such as Japan and Hong Kong and Korea, there have been severe economic recessions in the late 1990s and so in Japan, for example, we have seen increased rates of suicide in middle-aged males - the group we would expect to be most affected by an economic recession," Beautrais says. "There are sort of Asian values in terms of shame and humiliation attached with not being able to provide for your family."

Suicide rates are higher in countries where the act is culturally accepted - such as in Japan and India.

But Beautrais says some Asian cultures consider suicide taboo. So in places like Indonesia - where the majority of the population follows Islamic codes, which prohibit suicide - the rates are much lower.

Nations are now looking at better prevention. Japan, for example, is focusing on Internet chat groups, which promote and arrange suicide gatherings. Australia is the first country in the region to make suicide-related Web sites illegal.

Very often the tools of suicide are part of everyday life.

Beautrais says 60 percent of Asians who kill themselves do so by drinking pesticides, which are readily available in rural areas.

"One of the reason for suicide rates being high in a country like China and also in India is this ready availability of a highly toxic method of suicide which converts suicide attempts which would be non-fatal in the West into fatalities in the East," Beautrais says.

This has particularly impacted the death rate of women in Asia. Beautrais says very often women attempt suicide as a cry for help, without truly wanting to die. For example Western women might take too many sleeping pills to get attention and then can seek help at local hospitals.

By contrast women in rural China - far from adequate medical help - take extremely toxic pesticides, which guarantee death.

Beautrais says the numbers reinforce this. In the West, men are three to four times more likely to die of a suicide attempt than women. In China 25 percent more women die by their own hands than men.

The World Health Organization says that the best means of preventing suicide is social and family support for troubled individuals. The next best thing is to limit access to the means - such as restrictions on toxic pesticides.

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