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Study Finds 2 Million Annual Suicide Attempts in China

A new study shows that two million people in China try to kill themselves each year and about 300,000 complete their deadly effort. Doctors in Beijing opened a new center for research and counseling Tuesday that they hope can cut the death toll.

The Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center was set up to offer help to troubled people while at the same time give researchers a chance to learn why so many people want to die. The center will also train people in how to help others avoid suicide.

The Beijing city government is funding the center and China hopes to apply lessons learned here across the nation.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Chinese between the ages of 15 and 34, and ranks fifth for the population at large.

Kathy Leung said reducing suicides will reduce the devastation felt by family members, who often suffer for decades. She learned this first-hand when her mother committed suicide, something that still deeply troubles Ms. Leung and her siblings. "If we had done something, she would not die. And the shame and self-condemnation is not easy and it brings our family to very dim life for years," she said.

Executive Director Michael Phillips said Chinese people kill themselves for the same reasons as people in other nations - depression, stress and mental illness.

But studies show the patterns of suicide in China differ sharply from those of other nations, with rural areas hit hard and women dying in greater numbers than men. In most nations, men kill themselves at a higher rate than women do.

Doctor Phillips said one explanation is that China's mostly rural population has easy access to deadly agricultural pesticides, including rat poison. "Many of the suicide attempts that occur (in China) use very lethal methods, and thus a lot of people who in the west would take a couple of Valium and go to an emergency room and get washed out and get better, take insecticide and die," he said.

Officials are working to better regulate agricultural chemicals.

Researchers said China's shortage of mental health professionals who might recognize and treat depression and other illnesses associated with suicide also contributes to China's problem. "My elder brother, he is about 50 years old now. I talked with him on the phone about the suicide of our mother. He cries and cries and never stop. I think it is still in his heart," she said.

Officials say they have a realistic chance of cutting China's suicide rate by about 20 percent, something that could save 50-60,000 lives a year.