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Call for greater focus on women in self-harm

Women have been overlooked in suicide prevention programs, despite higher rates of attempted suicide, says advocacy group.

Australian women are far more likely to attempt suicide than men but the violent methods men use to take their own lives means their suicide rate is three times higher.

Advocacy group Women's Health Victoria said this means women are often overlooked in the design of suicide prevention strategies.

The group released a discussion paper last week to raise the profile of the "invisible" issue.

Women's Health director Rita Butera said women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men but males have triple the rate of actual suicides.

She said there were about 40 attempts reported for every suicide among young women.

The rate was even higher in Australia's indigenous community, where 20 per cent of girls aged 12 to 17 had seriously contemplated or attempted suicide.

And once women try to take their own lives, their risk factor for suicide increases sixfold.

Butera said men tended to use more violent methods, which meant a death rate three times higher than women's.

"It is a tricky area, we know the very high rates of male suicide in this country is a serious issue, no question about that," Ms Butera told AAP.

"But I think sometimes what becomes invisible is the issue for women.

"Because the focus is on suicide, the emphasis of intervention, I think the dollars that go to programs probably tend to focus more on (men)."

The report also noted an "attention-seeker" stigma attached to women and suicide that stopped some from seeking help, and a disturbing trend towards violent methods.

"There's a slight change in the way women are attempting suicide and they're starting to adopt more lethal methods like hanging.

"The US has shown a similar trend with firearms.

"That's not a good sign and it's not really clear why that trend is occurring."

Women's Health drew on Australian Bureau of Statistics and government data and medical journals to compile the Women and Suicide Gender Impact Assessment, which ultimately calls for a gender-based approach to suicide prevention.

Butera said suicide prevention programs must be relevant to gender and age group to be successful.

"What might work for a man is very different than what might work for a woman or even a very young man," she said.

The group also wants more reliable data collection on suicide attempts to create a more accurate snapshot of the issue.


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