Objectives: (i) To compare suicide rates in 15-24 year old men and women; and (ii) for 15-24 year old men, to investigate differences in suicide rates between metropolitan and rural area, and changes in method-specific suicide rates and, in particular, firearm and hanging suicide rates in rural and metropolitan areas.
Design: Retrospective analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suicide data (1964-1993).
Setting: All Australian States.
Subjects: Young women and men aged 15-24 years who died by suicide.
Results: Male youth suicide rates rose substantially over the 30 years in all Australian States, whereas female rates did not increase. Increases in suicide rates in young men in small rural towns consistently exceeded those in metropolitan areas in all Australian States. Metropolitan rates in 1964 were higher than those in small rural towns, but by 1993 the position was reversed. Medium-sized cities were the only areas where there was no consistent interstate trend. Differences were noted in suicide base rates in different States. High car exhaust suicide rates were noted in Western Australia, and high firearm suicide rates in Tasmania and Queensland. The ratio of firearm suicide rates in small rural areas to those in metropolitan areas rose in all mainland States, but the same ratio for hanging suicide rates changed little.
Conclusions: All Australian States reflect national suicide trend in relation to sex and residential area. In some States, particular suicide methods predominate. A decreasing trend in overall firearm suicide rates in young men in all States from 1984 to 1993 conceals substantial increases in firearm suicide rates in small rural areas in all mainland States over the 30-year period. This, together with the marked rate ratio difference in firearm suicides between metropolitan and small rural areas, suggests that particular risk factors for suicide are operating in small rural areas. The fact that hanging rate ratios changed little suggests that more general factors in male youth suicide are also operating in all areas. A better understanding of similarities and differences in health risks faced by metropolitan and rural youth is required.