FRIDAY, Sept. 6, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Suicide continues to become more common in the United States, with rural areas hit hardest by this ongoing crisis of despair, a new study reports.
Deprivation, isolation and lack of access to mental health care all appear to be driving the crisis in rural America, said lead researcher Danielle Steelesmith. She’s a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
“Rural suicide rates are higher than urban rates and tend to be increasing a little more rapidly,” Steelesmith said.
Suicide rates increased 41% between 1999 and 2016, from a median of 15 per 100,000 people to more than 21 per 100,000, county-by-county data show. Median means half had higher rates; half were lower.
Rural folks tend to be at higher risk than city dwellers, the researchers found.
Suicide rates were 22 per 100,000 in rural counties between 2014 and 2016, compared with about 18 per 100,000 in large metropolitan counties, the nationwide data revealed.
To figure out the difference between rural and urban areas, the researchers did a county-by-county analysis of factors that could be driving suicide rates.
“Deprivation” — a cluster of factors that includes low employment, poverty and lack of education — was closely related to increased rural suicide rates, the study authors said.
Steelesmith said poverty could be more entrenched and economic opportunities more limited in rural areas, leaving residents feeling helpless.
Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Dr. J. Michael Bostwick noted that the highest suicide rates found in the study occurred in the Mountain West, Appalachia and the Ozarks.
“The communities that are more likely to be suffering rurally are the ones that are still committed to mining or farming,” Bostwick said. “Information technology, alternative energy and automation may have bypassed rural communities in favor of metropolitan communities.”
Residents of rural America also appear to be more isolated, which increases suicide risk, the researchers noted.
And rural regions tend to have more social fragmentation, with more single-member households, unmarried residents and people drifting in and out of the area, according to the report.