Objective: The objective of this study was to examine trends in suicide among 15-34-year-olds living in Australian metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas between 1988 and 1997.
Method: Suicide and population data were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. We calculated overall and method-specific suicide rates for 15-24 and 25-34-year-old males and females separately, according to area of residence defined as non-metropolitan (< or = 20,000 people) or metropolitan.
Results: Between 1988 and 1997 suicide rates in 15-24-year-old non-metropolitan males were consistently 50% higher than metropolitan 15-24-year-olds. In 1995-1997, for example, the rates were: 38.2 versus 25.1 per 100,000 respectively (p < 0.0001). The reverse pattern was seen in 25-34-year-old females with higher rates in metropolitan areas (7.5 per 100,000) compared with non-metropolitan areas (6.1 per 100,000, p = 0.21) in 1995-1997. There were no significant differences according to area of residence in 25-34-year-old males or 15-24-year-old females. Over the years studied we found no clear evidence that suicide rates increased to a greater extent in rural than urban areas. Rates of hanging suicide have approximately doubled in both sexes and age groups in both settings over this time. Despite an approximate halving in firearm suicide, rates remain 3-fold higher among nonmetropolitan residents.
Conclusion: Non-metropolitan males aged 15-24 years have disproportionately higher rates of suicide than their metropolitan counterparts. Reasons for this require further investigation. Hanging is now the most favoured method of non-metropolitan suicide replacing firearms from 10 years ago. Although legislation may reduce method-specific suicide the potential for method-substitution means that overall rates may not fall. More comprehensive interventions are therefore required.