Bristol University research into suicide and attempted suicide supports the importance of social policy measures in improving mental health.
Researchers in the department of social medicine examined local rates of suicide and of hospital admissions for attempted suicide and psychiatric illness over a number of years.
Between 1982 and 1991, nearly 1,000 people in Bristol committed suicide, and there were almost 1,500 attempted suicides a year, rates which are comparable to other parts of the country.
The highest rates of suicide, attempted suicide and psychiatric illness were in Bristol's inner city, and the research published in the latest British Medical Journal suggests a strong link between areas of poverty and the incidence of suicide and attempted suicide.
Higher proportions of people living in poorer areas than in more affluent neighbourhoods have mental illness which requires hospital admission.
The university research team, led by David Gunnell, lecturer in public health medicine and epidemiology, and Tim Peters, senior lecturer in medical statistics, says that attempted suicide is more common among women and younger people, while suicide is more common among men, with the highest rates among the over-75 age group. Attempted suicide is ten to 20 times higher than suicide.
There has been a great deal of debate about the relation between suicide and attempted suicide, but the Bristol team found a strong link between the two, in that areas with high death rates from suicide also had high admission rates for attempted suicide.
The researchers say the link exists despite differences in age and sex and is partially explained by socioeconomic deprivation.
There has been an alarming increase in the number of young men committing suicide over the past 15 years, and the Government's White Paper, Health of the Nation, has set targets to reduce the number of cases.
"Social policy and Government measures to reduce socioeconomic deprivation may be as important in realising the Health of the Nation targets as health service activities," says the report.