Suicide rates in China, once among the highest in the world, have fallen by more than half over the last decade. The dramatic decline happened mostly because so many people moved from the rural countryside, where suicide, often by ingesting pesticides, is common—to the country’s sprawling cities, where it is more rare.
Between 1995 and 1999, suicides in rural China accounted for 93% of the total (pdf), a figure that has dropped to around 79% in the period between 2009 and 2011. And as men and women have moved to larger cities for work, the total number of suicides has also fallen dramatically. Researchers have attributed the decrease to higher incomes, better education, less family pressure (since many urban migrants live away from their close family members), and especially a lack of easy access to pesticides, which accounted for 62% of suicides in the country between 1996 and 2000.
Still, there are reasons to worry. Researchers at HKU observed that suicide rates have begun to increase among elderly people and young males in both urban and rural areas. “The recent rapid changes in socioeconomic conditions could have increased stress levels and resulted in more suicides, especially among the elderly,”they concluded. “Despite the significant reduction reported here, the latest figures suggest the declining trend is reversing.”
This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.
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