Objective The study empirically quantifies the contributions of age composition and urbanisation to changes in the suicide rate in China over the periods 1990–2000 and 2000–2010.
Methods A decompositional method was used to quantify the absolute and relative contributions of the age structure; the age-specific proportion of the urban population and the suicide rate of each age-specific, gender-specific and urban/rural cohort to the overall suicide rates in the two 10-year intervals.
Results In the period between 1990 and 2000, a significant decline in the suicide rate among younger age groups (especially young rural women) was identified as the main driving force of the downward trend in the overall suicide rate. In 2000–2010, the rate of decline in suicide was predominantly explained by the drop in the suicide rate among all age groups in rural areas, with the exception of those aged over 80. The positive impact of urbanisation on the decline of the suicide rate has gradually diminished relative to the earlier period.
Conclusion As the positive impact of urbanisation on suicide rates is diminishing, further urbanisation and rapid change in society may induce stress and adjustment problems that are not conducive to the promotion of well-being. Furthermore, as China is facing the prospects of slower economic growth and a rapidly ageing population, suicides among older adults may also be elevated, particularly among those in rural areas with insufficient healthcare and social support. In order to maintain the decreasing trend of suicide in China, it is important for the Chinese government to pay more attention to the mental well-being of the population and to mitigate the stress of urban life and to provide timely support to older adults especially in rural areas.
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