Background: A wide range of suicide rates are reported for China because official mortality data are based on an unrepresentative sample and because different reports adjust crude rates in different ways. We aimed to present an accurate picture of the current pattern of suicide in China on the basis of conservative estimates of suicide rates in different population cohorts.
Methods: Suicide rates by sex, 5-year age-group, and region (urban or rural) reported in mortality data for 1995-99 provided by the Chinese Ministry of Health were adjusted according to an estimated rate of unreported deaths and projected to the corresponding population.
Findings: We estimated a mean annual suicide rate of 23 per 100,000 and a total of 287,000 suicide deaths per year. Suicide accounted for 3(.)6% of all deaths in China and was the fifth most important cause of death. Among young adults 15-34 years of age, suicide was the leading cause of death, accounting for 19% of all deaths. The rate in women was 25% higher than in men, mainly because of the large number of suicides in young rural women. Rural rates were three times higher than urban rates-a difference that remained true for both sexes, for all age-groups, and over time.
Interpretation: Suicide is a major public-health problem for China that is only gradually being recognised. The unique pattern of suicides in China is widely acknowledged, so controversy about the overall suicide rate should not delay the development and testing of China-specific suicide-prevention programmes.