Key points

  • At 530 in 2009, the number of suicides amongst young adults aged 15 to 24 is only two-thirds of the number of a decade previously.  There have, however, been no reductions since 2006.
  • Scottish suicides are a fifth of all young adult suicides in Great Britain, which means that the suicide rate in Scotland is around 5 times that in England and Wales.
  • Four-fifths of young adult suicides are males.
  • As well as suicides, young men are also much more likely to die from accidents than are young women.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Suicide rates among young adults in this country have been a source of long-standing concern both nationally and internationally. 1  Suicide is now the second most common cause of death of young men after accidents, claiming more lives than cancer. 2

What makes suicide an issue in terms of poverty and social exclusion is the connection between suicide and socio-economic conditions.  For example, the unemployment rates of a sample of males and females who attempted suicide during the 1980s were considerably higher than the average unemployment rates for the age group. 3

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of suicides in Great Britain among those aged 15 to 24, with the data shown separately for England and Wales and for Scotland (because Scotland is such a large proportion of the total).  The figures have been adjusted for population changes over the period using ONS population estimates for each year.

The second graph shows, for the latest year, a breakdown of the suicides among those aged 15 to 24 by gender.  The data relates to Great Britain.

On the advice of the Office for National Statistics, the suicide data includes deaths recorded as ‘undetermined intent’, where there is an open verdict, and therefore includes deaths where suicide was the probable verdict as well as those where suicide was formally given as the verdict.  In other words, it includes ICD-10 codes Y10-Y34 (event of undetermined intent) as well as X60-X84 (intentional self-harm).  The data is based on year of registration (rather than year of occurrence).

The data sources for the first two graphs are ONS DR reports (England and Wales) and the General Registrar Office (Scotland).

The third graph shows, for the latest year, a breakdown of all deaths among those age 15 to 24 by gender.  The deaths are divided into four categories: suicides (as above), accidents (ICD-10 codes V01-X59), diseases and cancers (A00-N99) and other (mostly deaths from injury/poisoning where the intent is unknown plus assaults).  The data source is ONS Mortality Division (the data is not publicly available) and the data relates to England and Wales.

Overall adequacy of indicator: medium.  Classification of a death as suicide depends upon the practices of coroners’ courts and is therefore potentially affected by administrative or procedural changes.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Suicides - Unadjusted Suicides - Adjusted for population changes
England and WalesScotlandEngland and WalesScotland
1995 598 106 676 109
1996 559 114 642 120
1997 590 127 687 137
1998 651 114 763 124
1999 550 127 643 139
2000 555 143 644 156
2001 506 126 577 136
2002 475 126 530 135
2003 492 103 536 109
2004 476 99 508 104
2005 445 102 465 106
2006399 87 409 89
2007395 115 398 116
2008452 95 452 95
2009432 95 432 95

Graph 2


Graph 2

Cause of death Males Females
Suicides339 93
Accidents692 170
Diseases and cancers673 402
Other195 92
1. Dennehy, A, Smith, L and Harker, P Not to be ignored, page 60.  Also, see Diekstra, R et al – in Rutter, M and Smith, D (eds) Psychosocial disorders in young people, time trends and their causes, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.  Also, see Madge, N, Suicidal behaviour in children and young people‘, Highlight No 144, London: National Children’s Bureau: between 1980 and 1990, 1996.  Also, see Kelly, S and Bunting, J (1998) Trends in suicide in England and Wales 1982-96, ONS Population Trends 92, London: The Stationery Office, 1998, page 30.
2. Exploring the taboo, The Samaritans, 1997.
3. Hawton, K and Fagg, J Deliberate self-poisoning and self-injury in adolescents: a study of characteristics and trends in Oxford 1976-1989, British Journal of Psychiatry, 1995, vol 161, pp 816-23; cited in Kelly, S and Bunting, J Trends on suicide in England and Wales 1982-1996, ONS Population Trends 92, The Stationery Office, 1998.