ALARMING statistics are leading to increasing support for a charter on suicide.

Latest figures show the death rate for suicide and undetermined injury in Teesside was 18 per 100,000.

That compares to 15.2 per 100,000 for England and Wales.

While the national figures are levelling off, the local figures show no sign of reducing.

Health officials believe more needs to be done to tackle the causes that provoke a suicide attempt.

A Teesside suicide prevention charter was launched last year in Middlesbrough.

Yesterday, Hartlepool became the latest town to sign up.

Mayor Stuart Drummond pledged the town's support at a conference in the town convened to assess the charter's effectiveness during the past year.

The suicide symposium attracted more than 100 delegates, including representatives from Cleveland Police, staff from private sector employers and council workers.

Nurse consultant Lyn Williams, suicide prevention leader for Teesside, said: "We launched the Tees-wide suicide prevention scheme last year and annually we meet to discuss new ways of tackling the level of suicides.

"We were able to give updates from a database, which tracks statistics and categorises deaths."

But many suicidal people only receive hospital treatment after an attempt to take their own life and Ms Williams said: "We want business to look at possible strains on employees. Better help with things like debt issues, which could tip someone over the edge, would also be extremely useful."

Dr Peter Heywood, a lecturer in health studies at Newcastle University, has published research on 117 suicides in the Teesside area between 1997 and 1998.

He said those attempting suicide were "predominantly young men, living in socio-economic deprivation, social isolation and suffering from relationship breakdown."

Half have been in trouble with the police and one in five are multiple offenders.

Although two-thirds of suicides on Teesside have a psychiatric diagnosis of either schizophrenia or depression, only 28 per cent had been in contact with mental health services before their death.

Dr Amanda Gash, a consultant psychiatrist at Tees and North-East Yorkshire NHS Trust, urged organisations to sign up to the charter and to be more aware of those around them who may be close to the brink.

"We need to recognise danger signs such as stress, irritability, being withdrawn and absenteeism. Ask people how they are and listen to what they say."