Relationship of the high proportion of suicidal acts involving ingestion of pesticides to the low male-to-female ratio of suicide rates in China

Yongsheng Tong, Michael R. Phillips, Yi Yin, Zhichao Lan
2020 Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences  
Aims The 2014 World Health Organization report on global suicide identified large differences in the male-to-female ratio of suicide rates between countries: most high-income countries (HICs) report ratios of 3:1 or higher while many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – including China and India – report ratios of less than 1.5:1. Most authors suggest that gender-based social-cultural factors lead to higher rates of suicidal behaviour among women in LMICs and, thus, to relatively high
more » ... le suicide rates. We aim to test an alternative hypothesis: differences in the method and case-fatality of suicidal behaviour – not differences in the rates of suicidal behaviour – are the main determinants of higher female suicide rates in LMICs. Methods A prospective registry of suicide attempts treated in all 14 general hospitals in a rural county in China was established and data from the registry were integrated with population and mortality data from the same county from 2009 to 2014. Results There were 160 suicides and 1010 medically-treated suicidal attempts in the county; 84% of female suicides and 58% of male suicides ingested pesticides while 73% of female attempted suicides and 72% of male attempted suicides ingested pesticides. The suicide rate (per 100 000 person-years of exposure) was 8.4 in females and 9.1 in males (M:F ratio = 1.08:1) while the incidence of 'serious suicidal acts' (i.e. those that result in death or received treatment in a hospital) was 81.5 in females and 47.7 in males (M:F ratio = 0.59:1). The case-fatality of serious suicidal acts was higher in males than in females (19 v. 10%), increased with age, was highest for violent methods (92%), intermediate for pesticide ingestion (13%) and lowest for other methods (5%). Conclusions The incidence of medically serious suicidal behaviour among females in rural China was similar to that reported in HICs, but the case-fatality was much higher, primarily because most suicidal acts involved the ingestion of pesticides, which had a higher case-fatality than methods commonly used by women in HICs. These findings do not support sociological explanations for the relatively high female suicide rate in China but, rather, suggest that gender-specific method choice and the case-fatality of different methods are more important determinants of the demographic profile of suicide rates. Further research that involves ongoing monitoring of the changing incidence, demographic profile and case-fatality of different suicidal methods in urban and rural parts of both LMICs and HICs is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
doi:10.1017/s2045796020000244 fatcat:lfzblznoajdjnp5cew6jc3xwzm