In countries like the U.K., people living in urban regions are more likely to suffer poor physical and mental health than rural populations, and to have increased rates of psychiatric disorder. Urban/rural differences in suicidal behaviour have most frequently focussed on variations in the occurrence of suicide. We have investigated rates of deliberate self-harm (DSH) in urban and rural districts of Oxfordshire, England, and compared characteristics of DSH patients resident in these two areas. Information was collected on 6833 DSH episodes by 4054 persons aged 15 years and over presenting to the local general hospital between 2001 and 2005. We found that urban DSH rates were substantially higher than rural rates amongst both males and females aged between 15 and 64 years. This relationship was sustained even when socio-economic deprivation and social fragmentation were taken into account. There was little difference between urban and rural rates for patients aged 65 years and over. Urban DSH patients were more likely to be younger, non-white in ethnic origin, unemployed, living alone, to have a criminal record, to have previously engaged in DSH, and to report problems with housing. Rural DSH patients were more likely to suffer from physical illness, and to have higher suicide intent scores. Results of studies such as this can help identify where resources for preventive initiatives should be primarily directed and also what types of individuals may be at most risk in different areas. However, since variation by area will in part be due to differences at the individual level, further research utilising multi-level modelling techniques would be useful.
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