This paper investigates the relationship between suicide rates and prevalence of mental disorder and suicide attempts, across socio-economic status (SES) groups based on area of residence. Australian suicide data (1996-1998) were analysed in conjunction with area-based prevalences of mental disorder derived from the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being (1997). Poisson regression models of suicide risk included age, quintile of area-based SES, urban-rural residence, and country of birth (COB), with males and females analysed separately. Analysis focussed on the association between suicide and prevalences of (ICD-10) affective disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and suicide attempts by SES group. Prevalences of other psychiatric symptomatology, substance use problems, health service utilisation, stressful life-events and personality were also investigated. Significant increasing gradients were evident from high to low SES groups for prevalences of affective disorders, anxiety disorders (females only), and substance use disorders (males only); sub-threshold drug and alcohol problems and depression; and suicide attempts and suicide (males only). Prevalences of mental disorder, other sub-threshold mental health items and suicide attempts were significantly associated with suicide, but in most cases associations were reduced in magnitude and became statistically non-significant after adjustment for COB, urban-rural residence, and SES. For male suicide the relative risk (RR) in the lowest SES group compared to the highest was 1.40 (95% CI 1.29-1.52, p < 0.001) for all ages, and 1.46 (95% CI 1.27-1.67, p < 0.001) for male youth (20-34 years). This relationship was not substantially modified in males when regression models included prevalences of affective disorders, and other selected mental health variables and demographic factors. From a population perspective, SES remained significantly associated with suicide after controlling for the prevalence of mental disorders and other psychiatric symptomatology. Mental conditions and previous suicidal behaviour may play an intermediary role between SES and suicide, but this study suggests that an independent relationship between suicide and SES also exists.
Social Science & Medicine Vol. 61, no. 7, p. 1551-1559