Objective: To investigate changes in the range of suicide methods used in two time periods a century apart (1901-1907 and 2001-2007) in England and Wales.
Method: Suicide mortality and population data were obtained for England and Wales from the ONS and used to calculate gender and method-specific mortality rates.
Results: There have been striking changes in the methods of suicide used since the 1900s. Hanging was the most commonly used method during both time periods. However suicides involving drowning (22.5% of suicides in 1901-1907) and weapons (e.g. firearms and razors, 24.2% of suicides in 1901-1907) were rarely used in 2001-2007 (2.6% and 5.8% respectively). Although the use of poisons was popular in both time periods, the types of poisons used differed substantially over time. Household cleaning products and disinfectants accounted for almost half of poisoning suicides in the early 1900s whereas self-poisoning with medicines accounted for most poisoning suicides in 2001-2007.
Limitations: There were changes in the coding of suicides over time. Additionally, deaths by drowning and poisoning are more difficult to confirm as suicides than those that occur due to hanging or the use of weapons.
Conclusions: The changes in popularity of some suicide methods can be mainly attributed to changes in the physical availability (access) of these methods over time. Other methods which remain readily available have fallen out of fashion in recent times, suggesting a contributory role of other factors such as cognitive availability and personal preference/acceptability in influencing the choice of suicide method. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.