THE gap in male suicide rates between Scotland and elsewhere in Britain has increased more than tenfold since the 1960s, according to new figures.

While death by suicide is declining in Scotland, people are still more likely to take their own lives than in England and Wales, according to a new report.

The figures show the suicide rate among men of working age is 73% higher in Scotland than south of the Border. Among women, the rate is almost double that south of the Border.

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The report, published by NHS Scotland, suggests the divide has opened in the past 40 years. The authors note suicide levels were just 6% higher among men aged 15-74 in Scotland in 1968.

Dr Andrew Fraser, director of public health sciences for NHS Health Scotland, said the loss of industrial jobs had potentially left men in Scotland less fulfilled and the break-up of nuclear families meant people were isolated.

He said: "There are two people committing suicide on average every day."

The report examined the 1501 suicides among Scots residents in 2009 and 2010. Almost three-quarters of those who died were male, and almost half were aged between 35 and 54.

Those who killed themselves were more likely to be in deprived areas, but among those of employment age 67% had jobs.

Dr Fraser said: "Some people in employment are not very happy in their workplace and do not feel supported. There is bullying and harassment."

He said it was encouraging Scots suicide rates were down by 17% since 2002, but it was unlikely the Scottish Government would hit its target of a 20% reduction by the end of next year.

He urged NHS staff to take signs of mental illness – such as those at accident and emergency after self-harm – as seriously as heart attack symptoms.

A total of 56% of those who committed suicide in 2010 were given drugs for a mental health condition in the year before their death. More than one-fifth visited an A&E department in the three months before they died.

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "The Health Secretary must reflect on these disturbing figures and set out plans to address them."

The report is the second on suicide after NHS Health Scotland decided to improve information on suicides in 2008.

Minister for Public Health, Michael Matheson, said the Scottish Government was committed to a wide range of initiatives.

Mr Matheson said: "The development of this database is an important part of our work to learn more about factors that can influence suicide. We will use it to develop practical measures which can contribute to preventing suicide and help continue the downward trend in suicide we have seen over the last few years.

"We will consider the report as part of our development of a new national strategy on preventing suicide and self-harm, to be published in summer 2013."