BACKGROUND In the past two decades the suicide rate in young people has risen in the UK and other countries.

AIMS To identify the characteristics of people aged under 35 who commit suicide.

METHOD Psychological autopsy study with case-control design. Cases were 84 suicides and probable suicides (open verdicts). Controls were 64 age- and gender-matched non-suicides obtained through the general practices of the matched cases. Main variables: social, including employment status, marital status and living circumstances; life events and interpersonal difficulties; clinical, including current psychiatric disorder, alcohol and drug misuse, previous self-harm and personality disorder.

RESULTS A large number of highly significant social, interpersonal and clinical differences between suicides and controls was found. Factor analysis identified two groups of variables within each of the social, interpersonal and clinical domains which were independently linked to suicide, corresponding to: acute, severe mental disorder and chronic disorder of behaviour; rootlessness and social withdrawal; chronic and recent interpersonal problems.

CONCLUSIONS A broad prevention strategy is needed to reverse the recent rise in the suicide rate in young people.