Here is one truly staggering statistic – suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 4,600 of these young lives are tragically lost each year to suicide.
According to a new study, this suicide rate is twice as high in rural settings than in urban locations.
The study, published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics, looked at nearly 67,000 suicides between 1996 and 2010. Researchers found significantly higher suicide rates among rural youth, especially among young, rural males. To make matters worse, both the rate of rural suicide and the rural-urban disparity appears to be increasing.
However, while she considers the findings “scary,” Dr. Cynthia Fontanella, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study, explained to The Columbus Dispatch in an article here that the results were not entirely unexpected.
“We kind of expected that there would be a larger suicide rate among rural youth than urban,” Fontanella told reporters. “There are a number of possible reasons: a significant shortage of mental-health care in rural areas, geographic, social and economic isolation and a greater access to guns.”
She added, “What we didn’t expect was that the disparities are widening over time.”
The race is on now to further research why rural suicides, especially those among teens and young adults, are so high. Fontanella suggests access to guns may be just one aspect of the increase. She told Medical Daily access to mental health care in these isolated areas could also play a role in reversing the trend.
“Access to mental health care in rural areas is a key issue; many rural counties do not have even one psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker serving the region," says Fontanella. "This lack of access can compound the severity of illness. People living in rural areas have to travel longer distances to see health care practitioners and wait longer for appointments, so by the time they receive care they may have developed more serious conditions.”
Fellow researcher John Campo, chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at Wexner Medical Center and senior author of the study, elaborated.
“If a rural child is depressed, it’s much harder to get state-of-the-art care,” Campo said in a news release. “And it’s especially difficult to receive psychotherapy in a rural area.”
Researchers suggested using other suicide surveillance methods, such as incorporating mental health care into primary care settings, utilizing technology to provide care to rural residents through telemedicine and creating school-based interventions that may also slow the rate of rural teen suicides.
“We undertook this study, because these kinds of surveillance studies can really help us identify areas to target our primary prevention efforts,” Fontanella explained in a report with Boston.com. “It’s clear that we really need to target rural areas for primary prevention of suicide, and the study results really confirm that.”
Further research targeting rural areas to prevent further deaths is suggested.