Australia's suicide rate has been steadily declining since its peak in 1997, Professor of Psychiatry Robert Goldney revealed in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia .
However, Professor Goldney, of The Adelaide Clinic, warned the improvement is no reason for complacency.
The general reduction in suicide rates does not negate its tragedy for the individuals and families affected, Prof Goldney said.
Continuing vigilance is required, with ongoing acknowledgement and acceptance of the unique role and responsibility that medical professionals, particularly general practitioners, have in identifying and treating the mental disorders, particularly depression, that are associated with suicide.
In 1997, the number of Australians committing suicide peaked at 2,720. The most recently available figure shows that the number had fallen to 2,098 in 2004.
Although suicide accounts for only 1.6 per cent of all deaths in Australia, it comprises more than 20 per cent of deaths for men aged between 20 and 39 years, and men remain four times more likely than women to die by suicide.
Methods of suicide have changed between 1997 and 2004 - the proportion involving firearms has fallen from 12.1 per cent to 8.1 per cent, while those involving hanging have risen from 36.3 per cent to 47.6 per cent.
This is of particular concern, as legislating against hanging is difficult and it probably requires an education program to bring the dangerousness of hanging to the attention of the community, Prof Goldney said.
The overall reduction in suicide is 'gratifying', he said, and most likely due to a range of causes.
'Better community awareness of both the antecedents of suicide and the fact that suicide prevention is possible has probably played a role, along with the provision of more accessible services,' Prof Goldney said.
'More specifically, it is likely that programs promoting better recognition and treatment of depression - the mental disorder most commonly associated with suicide - are paying dividends.'