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Announcements from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

October 5, 2017

Suicide Rates for Rural Counties Consistently Higher Than Urban Counties

In the latest edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Rural Health Series, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined suicide trends between 2001 – 2015.  Suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, and suicide occurs at a much higher rate in rural areas than urban.  While this is a documented rural-urban disparity, the new CDC report examines the annual changes in the rates of suicide by a number of additional variables including sex, race/ethnicity, age group, and mechanism of death.

A few key findings across all urbanization levels during the study time period include:

  • Suicide rates for males were four to five times higher than for females
  • Non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Natives had the highest suicide rates
  • Higher suicide rates were observed among persons aged 35-64 years
  • Firearms were the most often used mechanism of death, with rates in rural counties almost double those in large and medium/small metropolitan counties

“The trends in suicide rates by sex, race, ethnicity, age, and mechanism that we see in the general population are magnified in rural areas,” said James A. Mercy, Ph.D., director of CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention.  “This report underscores the need for suicide prevention strategies that are tailored specifically for these communities.”

CDC recently released a technical package of strategies representing the best available evidence to prevent or reduce public health problems like violence.  The package includes examples of programs that can be customized to fit the cultural needs of different communities.

Additional forthcoming work on disparities in suicide rates in rural areas includes:

  • The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services has identified suicide as an important rural disparity to address, and will be issuing a policy brief with recommendations to the Secretary of HHS later this year;
  • A HRSA commentary on suicide trends in rural America will be authored in the coming weeks;
  • CDC findings on suicide and other injury-related topics will be highlighted during National Rural Health Day activities the week of November 13th.
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