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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK


Health

Social upheaval risk for suicide

Reducing suicide is a key government health target

Areas with high levels of social upheaval and people living alone have more suicides than deprived regions, according to research.

And London is the worst affected, having nine out of 10 of the most socially unstable areas in the UK.

Previous research has suggested that poverty - defined by unemployment, poor housing and car ownership - was a big risk factor for suicide.

Mental Health
But a report by the University of Bristol says areas where people live alone or are unmarried, move house frequently and live in private rented accommodation have higher rates of suicide.

The government has made reducing suicide by 20% in the next 10 years a key part of its public health strategy, and it has made tackling social exclusion the major plank of this programme.

Researchers say efforts to meet this target should focus more on socially fragmented areas than deprived ones.

Deprivation

They studied death rates from suicide between 1981 and 1991 in 633 parliamentary constituencies and measured them against information gleaned from censuses.

They found deprived areas like Glasgow had lower rates of suicide than London with its high level of social mobility and people living alone.

They also found that areas where social fragmentation increased over the 10-year period also saw a rise in suicide rates.

However, for all other causes of death, deprivation was more important.

The researchers call for more research into why some areas have a higher turnover of population than others.

They say it may be that people who have mental illness or are at risk of suicide are more likely to gravitate to areas with high levels of turnover and low social support.

"We cannot say that social fragmentation causes people to commit suicide. There may be a number of factors operating," said Dr David Gunnell, who led the research.

"Suicide is very complex, unlike an illness like lung cancer where smoking is clearly a high risk factor.

"It can be linked to loss of a job, physical or mental illness or lack of social support, for example. It is not straightforward," he stated.

Voting

The study, which is published in the British Medical Journal, also measured whether areas with large numbers of adults who did not vote had high levels of suicide.

They found that this was this was as important a risk factor as deprivation, but not as significant as social fragmentation.

"Failure to vote in the place you live may indicate that you feel more alienated from it," said Dr Gunnell.

Suicide rates have been falling in the UK in recent years, but for young men the figure is rising.

A recent psychological study of suicides in people aged under 35 found that suicide victims were three times more likely to be unemployed, five times as likely to have a history of alcohol or drug misuse and far more likely to have relationship problems, either with a partner, parent or peer.

Other key factors included a tendency to have no friends, to live in rented accommodation and to move house frequently.

The Samaritans says the reasons which drive a person to suicide are often complex, but lack of a support network can push people over the edge.



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