Australian men are more likely to die from suicide than road crashes, according to a bulletin released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
And over the last few years men are also more likely to die from suicide than from all other external causes besides road crashes.
Both results are due to an increase in male suicide rates in recent years combined with decreases in deaths due to road crashes and other non-natural causes.
The AIHW National Injury Surveillance Units Australian Injury Prevention Bulletin No 23 found that more than 2,500 Australians die by suicide each year, and 8 out of 10 of these are men.
Overall, the number of suicides rose by about 9% from 1996 to 1997, due mostly to an increase for men aged 20 to 39 years - rates for this group have risen by 70% over the last two decades.
Head of the AIHWs National Injury Surveillance Unit at Flinders University, James Harrison, said the statistics show suicide as a major public health problem in Australia.
Its becoming relatively more prominent as suicide rates rise and deaths from other non-natural causes fall, Dr Harrison said.
The male suicide rate has continued to increase while female suicide rates have been about the same since 1979.
The statistics also show trends in the method of suicides in Australia.
Hanging has become the dominant method of suicide. In 1998, nearly half of male suicide deaths were by hanging.
The rate of male suicide by hanging has more than tripled in the last two decades and is continuing to rise, Dr Harrison said. Rates of suicide by hanging remain much higher for men than for women, but are increasing in both sexes.
Suicide using firearms has declined by more than half since the late 1980s, but has been replaced by an almost corresponding increase in suicide by motor vehicle exhaust gas.
The most notable change in the method of suicide used by women is a decrease in poisoning, whether by drugs or other substances. This marks the end of the high incidence of suicide using medication that peaked in the 1960s.