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The relationship between population density and suicide risk remains unclear. While urbanization is associated with greater risk for psychopathology, higher suicide rates have been reported in rural areas. We examined population density and suicide in the Italian population in the last 30 years.
The Italian National Institute of Statistics databases of the Italian population aged 15 years and older (52.4 million in 2016) were used to compute age-adjusted annual total mortality and suicide rates for the years 1985–2016. According to the European Union statistical office (EUROSTAT) criteria, municipalities were classified into densely populated areas, intermediate density areas, or thinly populated areas. Rate ratios (RRs) were computed by sex, age, and geographical area, using densely populated areas as reference.
Total mortality was not associated with population density. In males, suicide rate increased with decreasing population density (RR = 1.17, 95% confidence interval [CI]:1.08–1.28, in intermediate population areas, and RR = 1.32, 95% CI: 1.20–1.45, in thinly populated areas, in 2016). This inverse relationship was found across age, geographical areas, and consecutively over 22 years (1994–2016). In females, no significant difference was detected (RR = 0.96, 95% CI: 0.82–1.13 in intermediate density areas and RR = 1.02, 95% CI: 0.85–1.22 in thinly populated areas). Hanging was the most common suicide method among males, more frequent in thinly (58.8%) than intermediate (53.2%) or densely (41.4%) populated areas.
A consistent and temporally stable inverse relationship between population density and suicide was found in the male, but not female, population. Men may be more vulnerable to adverse social and economic factors associated with lower population density.
It is unclear whether there is a direct link between economic crises and changes in suicide rates.
The Lopez-Ibor Foundation launched an initiative to study the possible impact of the economic crisis on European suicide rates.
Data was gathered and analysed from 29 European countries and included the number of deaths by suicide in men and women, the unemployment rate, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, the annual economic growth rate and inflation.
There was a strong correlation between suicide rates and all economic indices except GPD per capita in men but only a correlation with unemployment in women. However, the increase in suicide rates occurred several months before the economic crisis emerged.
Overall, this study confirms a general relationship between the economic environment and suicide rates; however, it does not support there being a clear causal relationship between the current economic crisis and an increase in the suicide rate.
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