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Suicide in rural populations

Suicide rates in rural Canada

As Canadian communities become increasingly distant from metropolitan centres, suicide rates increase (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2006). The following statistics reflect suicide rates by gender and age in rural areas:

  • Suicide mortality rates in rural communities are over four times higher among men than women.
  • Suicide mortality rates are highest among men and women aged 20 to 44 years living in non-metropolitan-influenced zones.
  • Male and female adolescents (under age 20) living in non-metropolitan-influenced zones have the highest risk of dying from suicide.
  • Suicide mortality risk declines with increasing age among rural women, but remains significantly higher among men in rural areas in all age groups compared with urban men.

Suicide risk factors in rural populations

Living in rural communities may create geographical, psychological and sociocultural barriers to treatment for people at risk of suicide. Hirsch (2006) described the following risk factors for suicide in rural communities:

Rural life and culture

  • Many people in rural areas have strenuous lifestyles (e.g., caring for crops and animals, working long days and nights, weather concerns).
  • People with suicidal thoughts and behaviours may try to ignore these problems due to a stressful rural lifestyle and the need to continue working.
  • The stigma of mental disorders may deter people from seeking treatment.
  • Access to firearms, pesticides and other common, culturally accepted rural elements may contribute to suicide through increased lethality.
  • Pesticide self-poisoning is a largely rural phenomenon and is the most common method of suicide in rural areas (World Health Organization, 1990).

Geographic and interpersonal isolation

  • Gradual depopulation of rural areas has resulted in a loss of primary relationships, culture and sense of community, and has increased feelings of loneliness for many rural residents.
  • Geographic and social isolation may limit the availability of social support in times of crisis.
  • Rural areas often have a shortage of health care facilities and professionals, and have difficulty recruiting service providers.

Economic and sociopolitical distress

  • Social fragmentation, workforce migration, an aging population and economic decline have eroded the infrastructure of rural communities, resulting in a loss of land and livelihood, political power and status, and personal control for many rural residents.
  • Shortages of low-cost housing and public transportation, as well as economic crises and reduced community interactions, contribute to community deterioration and stress.

References

Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2006). How Healthy Are Rural Canadians? An Assessment of Their Health Status and Health Determinants. Ottawa: Author.

Hirsch, J.K. (2006). A review of literature on rural suicide; Risk and protective factors, incidence, and prevention. Crisis, 27, 189-199.

World Health Organization. (1990). Public Health Impact of Pesticides Used in Agriculture. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.