Widening Rural-Urban Disparities in Youth Suicides

Posted by Journal of the American Medical Association on May 18, 2015


Little is known about recent trends in rural-urban disparities in youth suicide, particularly sex- and method-specific changes. Documenting the extent of these disparities is critical for the development of policies and programs aimed at eliminating geographic disparities.

To examine trends in US suicide mortality for adolescents and young adults across the rural-urban continuum.

Across the study period, 66 595 youths died by suicide, and rural suicide rates were nearly double those of urban areas for both males (19.93 and 10.31 per 100 000, respectively) and females (4.40 and 2.39 per 100 000, respectively). Even after controlling for a wide array of county-level variables, rural-urban suicide differentials increased over time for males, suggesting widening rural-urban disparities (1996-1998: adjusted incidence rate ratio [IRR], 0.98; 2008-2010: adjusted IRR, 1.19; difference in IRR, P = .02). Firearm suicide rates declined, and the rates of hanging/suffocation for both males and females increased. However, the rates of suicide by firearm (males: 1996-1998, 2.05; and 2008-2010: 2.69 times higher) and hanging/suffocation (males: 1996-1998, 1.24; and 2008-2010: 1.63 times higher) were disproportionately higher in rural areas, and rural-urban differences increased over time (P = .002 for males; P = .06 for females).

Conclusions and Relevance
Suicide rates for adolescents and young adults are higher in rural than in urban communities regardless of the method used, and rural-urban disparities appear to be increasing over time. Further research should carefully explore the mechanisms whereby rural residence might increase suicide risk in youth and consider suicide-prevention efforts specific to rural settings.


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