The risk of suicide tends to be very high among older men living in rural areas and socially isolated locations; this starling claim was made by Walter Sisulu University head of psychiatry Professor Alonso Betancourt on Wednesday.
Betancourt was delivering his inaugural lecture to raise awareness about psychiatric disorders.
"A detailed look by demographics shows that 79, 2% of South African suicide victims are males. Less educated females are also a high risk group. Suicidal behaviour amongst black South Africans is equally alarming.
"Over 43% of South African suicide victims are black, 38, 4% white, 15,9% coloured and 2% Asian. The race groups make up 79, 4%, 9,2%, 8,8% and 2,6% of the population respectively," said Betancourt.
He explained that "the risk of attempted suicide was high in the age group 18 - 34 with coloureds having the highest lifetime prevalence for attempts.
"Youth specific risk factors include early marriage, unwanted pregnancies, and a lack of parental support, a history of abuse, school problems, social ostracism, humiliation and the availability of firearms.
"One of the most common misconceptions is that someone who attempts suicide is crazy. Another is that someone with a history of failed suicide attempts is manipulative. Situations that leave one feeling hopeless and helpless cause suicidal behavior as an outlet," he said.
According to Betancourt, worldwide, about 1 million people die of suicide each year; and the numbers are on the rise in many parts of the world.
“The global suicide rate is to double by 2020. In South Africa, suicide risk is associated with alcohol abuse, occupational trauma common in policing and hopelessness linked to incurable health conditions such as HIV/Aids which have been shown to dramatically increase suicidal behaviour”, he said.
"Although the introduction of antiretroviral therapy in 1996 halved suicide rates amongst HIV positive patients, investigators found in 2008 that suicide rates amongst this group were more than three times higher than the rates of the general population," Betancourt explained.
While Japan, Finland, Cuba, New Zealand and France have some of the highest suicide rates, Betancourt stressed that "poorer countries could be lagging behind in recording the cause of death as suicide."