Reuters

As more residents leave isolated rural areas and their associated risks, the country's disturbingly high number of such tragedies seems to be leveling off.

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.

While China’s neighbors like South Korea and Japan launch campaigns to curb their worryingly high suicide rates, China has done little to improve mental health. Yet suicide rates have fallen from as much as 23.2 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 9.8 per 100,000 in 2011, according to a new study by researchers from Hong Kong University. “The decline is very significant and has outperformed many countries which try to achieve a 20% reduction in 10 years time,” one of the study’s co-author’s, Paul Yip told Quartz.
(Suicide rates in China from 2002 to 2011: an update)

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.

Also notable is the fall in suicides among women in China, one of the few countries where suicide rates among women are higher than men. (That has been blamed on everything from the one-child policy to family pressure to marry.) Between 1995 and 1999, about 37.8 women per 100,000 between the ages of 15 and 34 committed suicide a year, but in 2011, that number fell to just over 3 per every 100,000. A study (pdf) released in 2012 on suicides in Shandong province bears out that trend:
(Journal of Affective Disorders/"Suicide rates in Shandong, China, 1991–2010: Rapid decrease in rural rates and steady increase in male–female ratio")

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.”

(Suicide rates in China from 2002 to 2011: an update)
 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. a photo of Los Angeles in 1962
    Transportation

    Mapping the Effects of the Great 1960s ‘Freeway Revolts’

    Urbanites who battled the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s saved some neighborhoods—but many highways did transform cities.

  3. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  4. a photo of a small fleet of electric Chevrolet Bolts cars.
    Transportation

    Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?

    Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

  5. An ornately decorated yellow doorway with gold doors stands out on a row of brick buildings with commercial shopfronts.
    Design

    Reading the Story of London’s Hindus Through Temple Architecture

    Ranging from adapted historic buildings to ornate cultural centers, London’s Hindu temples tell of waves of immigration to Britain and increasing visibility.

×