Suicide and mental health in rural, remote and metropolitan areas in Australia

Tanya M Caldwell, Anthony F Jorm and Keith B G Dear
Med J Aust 2004; 181 (7 Suppl): S10.


Objectives: To compare the prevalence of mental health disorders and the use of professional help by area of residence, age and sex; and to determine whether the differences parallel differences in suicide rates.

Design: Retrospective cross-sectional analysis of Australian national mortality data (1997–2000) and the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (1997), using broad area-of-residence classifications based on the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Area (RRMA) index.

Main outcome measures: (a) Suicide rates; (b) prevalence of depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders; and (c) use of health professionals for mental health problems — by age, sex and area of residence.

Results: Higher suicide rates were evident for men, particularly young men in rural (40.4 per 100 000; z, 3.2) and remote (51.7 per 100 000; z, 7.2) populations compared with metropolitan (31.8 per 100 000) populations. Although the proportion of young men reporting mental health disorders did not differ significantly between rural (23.5%; z, –0.5) and remote (18.8%; z, –1.6) areas compared with metropolitan (25.6%) areas, young men with a mental health disorder from non-metropolitan areas were significantly less likely than those from metropolitan areas to seek professional help for a mental health disorder (11.4% v 25.2%; z, –2.2).

Conclusions: There is a need to investigate why young men in non-metropolitan areas, the population with the greatest suicide risk, do and do not engage with mental health services.

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  • Tanya M Caldwell1
  • Anthony F Jorm2
  • Keith B G Dear3

  • Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.



This project was funded by beyondblue: the national depression initiative. We would like to thank Robert van der Hoek, of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, for data extraction and advice; David Braddock and Jenny Hargreaves (AIHW) for co-ordinating data requests; and Helen Berry for editorial comment.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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