BACKGROUND The suicide rate in young men, but not young women, is rising. One possible route to suicide prevention is through general practice but recent evidence suggests that young suicides are not likely to attend GP surgeries prior to death.

METHOD We carried out a retrospective examination of general practice contacts by a 2-year sample of suicides under 35 years of age in the 12 health districts of Greater Manchester. In the 61 young suicides who were known to attend a GP in the three months before death, we recorded (a) the number of consultations each week in the three months before suicide; (b) sex differences in rates of and reasons for consultation; (c) frequency of recorded risk assessment at the last GP visit before suicide.

RESULTS The number of GP visits increased significantly before death. A monthly increase was more evident in males, but the increase in the week before death was more marked in females. There was no sex difference in the rate of GP visits before suicide; both sexes were most likely to attend for psychological reasons. Significant suicide risk had been noted at none of the final GP visits.

CONCLUSIONS There remains a potential role for GPs in preventing suicides by young people of both sexes. The recent increase in suicide by young males does not appear to be related to a lower rate of GP attendance before death. Future training of GPs in this area should focus on risk assessment.