Epidemiology

• Temporal trend: the number of suicides in the UK and some other countries has declined somewhat in recent years (McClure, 2000), partly due to the detoxifying of the household gas supply (natural rather than coal gas) and motor vehicle exhaust fumes (introduction of catalytic converters) (McClure, 2000). Attempts have been made to relate this reduction to contemporaneous increases in antidepressant prescribing rates (e.g. Hall et al., 2003), but this is impossible to prove.

• Age: the rate increases with age, but suicide in young men (age 15-24) has recently become more frequent.

• Sex: suicide is more than twice as common in men than women.

• Marital status: divorced people have the highest rates, followed by the widowed and single, and the married at the lowest.

• Social class: the highest rates are at both extremes of the social scale.

• Occupation: high-risk groups include doctors, veterinary surgeons, pharmacists, and farmers.

• Residential circumstances: inner-city areas with a mobile population have high rates. Psychiatric inpatients, those recently discharged from such hospitals, and prisoners are all at high risk.

• Nationality: there are large differences between the suicide rates of different countries. These are partly real, due, for example, to religious and cultural variation, but some apparent differences result from differing methods of ascertainment. High rates are found in Greenland, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, Japan, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Low rates are found in Eire, Italy, Spain, Greece, and the Netherlands.

• National circumstances: suicide rates fall in wartime. High suicide rates are found in association with economic depression, unemployment, and high divorce rates.

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