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1,000 a year pick self-destruction

FRANCE

France has a high suicide rate - nearly 12,000 cases in 1996 - and there is concern about young people, of whom about 1,000 take their lives every year.

The number of under-25s committing suicide has tripled since the 1960s. But official statistics under-represent the true numbers by an estimated 20 per cent. The most recent figures, for 1993, showed 756 males and 210 females aged 15 to 24 killed themselves that year, 200 more than in 1992.

Suicide is the second cause of death in the age group, after road accidents. Many more try unsuccessfully to end their lives - an estimated 40,000 15 to 20-year-olds annually. Twice as many women as men try but fail.

A study of more than 12,000 secondary pupils published in 1994 by Inserm, the national institute of health and medical research, reported that nearly a quarter had contemplated suicide, and that 5 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls had tried to kill themselves. More than a third of these had repeated the attempt. Inserm found that girls had more suicidal inclinations than boys.

Highrisk children overwhelmingly had a negative view of their family and "often felt alone", said the report.

According to paediatrician Patrick Alvin, head of a specialist medical service for teenagers, suicide is for youngsters an impulsive act, though often previously contemplated. Interviewed in a teachers' magazine, he said suicidal children "appear more vulnerable than average, narcissistically fragile, very sensitive to everything in their network of relationships, especially within the family".

There were usually multiple reasons behind the deed or attempt but always a triggering factor such as a loss or fear of one, a bereavement, or just a feeling the world would collapse because they got zero in maths, he said.

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