Suicide mortality rates in rural areas of the United States are twice that of rates in urban areas, and identifying which factors-eg, higher rates of suicidal distress, lower rates of help-seeking behaviors, or greater access to firearms-contribute to this rural/urban disparity could help target interventions.
Using 2015-2016 data on adult respondents to the California Health Interview Survey (n = 40,041), we examined associations between residence in a rural (vs nonrural) census tract and nonfatal suicidal ideation and attempt.
We found that living in a rural area was not associated with nonfatal suicidal behavior (OR for past-year suicidal ideation = 0.87, 95% CI: 0.63-1.20; OR for past-year suicide attempt = 0.55, CI: 0.20-1.48). Women living in rural areas had higher odds of lifetime suicidal ideation compared to women living in nonrural areas, but this difference was not significant (OR = 1.17, CI: 0.94-1.44). We also found that, among individuals reporting suicidal behavior, there were few rural/nonrural differences in perceived need for treatment, such as seeing a physician or taking a prescription for mental health problems.
Our results do not suggest higher suicidal distress or lower treatment-seeking behaviors as explanations for the rural/urban disparity in suicide mortality rates. Further attention is needed to the unique risk factors driving suicidality in rural areas, as well as exploring heterogeneity in these factors across different rural contexts.