Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Characteristics of young rural Chinese suicides: a psychological autopsy study

J. Zhanga1 c1, W. Wieczoreka1, Y. Conwella2, X.-M. Tua2, B. Y.-W. Wua3, S. Xiaoa4 and C. Jiaa5

a1 State University of New York College at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA

a2 University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA

a3 State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA

a4 Central South University, China

a5 Shandong University, China


Background Patterns of suicide rates in China differ in many ways from those in the West. This study aimed to identify the risk factors characteristic for young rural Chinese suicides.

Method This was a case-control psychological autopsy (PA) study. The samples were suicides and living controls (both aged 15–34 years) from 16 rural counties of China. We interviewed two informants for each suicide and each control with pretested and validated instruments to estimate psychosocial, psychiatric and other risk factors for suicides.

Results The prevalence of mental disorders was higher among the young Chinese who died by suicide than among the living controls, but was lower than among suicides in the West. Marriage was not a protecting factor for suicide among young rural Chinese women, and never-married women who were involved in relationships were about three times more likely to commit suicide than single women who were unattached. Religion/religiosity was not a protecting factor in Chinese suicide, as it tended to be stronger for suicides than for controls. Impulsivity was significantly higher for suicides than for controls. Psychological strain, resulting from conflicting social values between communist gender equalitarianism and Confucian gender discrimination, was associated significantly with suicide in young rural Chinese women, even after accounting for the role of psychiatric illness.

Conclusions Risk factors for suicide in rural China are different from those in the West. Psychological strain plays a role in suicide. Suicide prevention programs in China should incorporate culture-specific considerations.

(Received March 24 2009)

(Revised June 03 2009)

(Accepted June 07 2009)

(Online publication August 06 2009)


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr J. Zhang, Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, State University of New York College at Buffalo, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222, USA. (Email: