Objectives: To compare the prevalence of mental health disorders and the use of professional help by area of residence, age and sex; and to determine whether the differences parallel differences in suicide rates.
Design: Retrospective cross-sectional analysis of Australian national mortality data (1997-2000) and the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (1997), using broad area-of-residence classifications based on the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Area (RRMA) index.
Main outcome measures: (a) Suicide rates; (b) prevalence of depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders; and (c) use of health professionals for mental health problems - by age, sex and area of residence.
Results: Higher suicide rates were evident for men, particularly young men in rural (40.4 per 100 000; z, 3.2) and remote (51.7 per 100 000; z, 7.2) populations compared with metropolitan (31.8 per 100 000) populations. Although the proportion of young men reporting mental health disorders did not differ significantly between rural (23.5%; z, -0.5) and remote (18.8%; z, -1.6) areas compared with metropolitan (25.6%) areas, young men with a mental health disorder from non-metropolitan areas were significantly less likely than those from metropolitan areas to seek professional help for a mental health disorder (11.4% v 25.2%; z, -2.2).
Conclusions: There is a need to investigate why young men in non-metropolitan areas, the population with the greatest suicide risk, do and do not engage with mental health services.