Single Men, Jobless Women at Highest Risk for Suicide, Study Finds

Single Men, Jobless Women at Highest Risk for Suicide, Study FindsSuicide is one of the main causes of death in the U.S., and for every one person who succeeds in killing himself or herself, another 11 people make unsuccessful suicide attempts. While people of all ages attempt suicide, the highest rates per capita appear is elderly individuals over the age of 65. Doctors and mental health researchers already know quite a bit about other risk factors that increase the chances for suicide. A new study, published in June 2013 in the journal Psychological Medicine, adds to this knowledge by assessing the suicide risks of more than 7 million adults.

Background Information

Current figures from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that about 38,000 Americans kill themselves every year, and another 480,000 Americans try to kill themselves but fail in their attempts. The lowest suicide rates appear in children and young teenagers, with slightly less than one death per 100,000 individuals. Older teenagers commit suicide at a rate of almost seven per 100,000, while adults between the ages of 20 and 24 commit suicide at a rate of slightly less than 13 per 100,000. Slightly more than 14 out of every 100,000 people age 65 or older kill themselves, and fully 47 out of every 100,000 non-Hispanic white males over the age of 85 kill themselves.

Males kill themselves far more often than females, although females attempt suicide far more frequently than males. The reasons for this disparity are the relatively irreversible nature of the means that men typically use to commit suicide (like self-inflicted gunshot wounds) and the relatively reversible nature of the means typically used by women (like self-poisoning). From an ethnic perspective, the highest rates of suicide appear in Native Americans and non-Hispanic whites. Conversely, the lowest rates appear in non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, and people of Pacific Islander or Asian descent.

Identified Risk Factors

The No. 1 identified risk factor for suicide in the U.S. is the presence of a mental disorder such as major depression or a substance use disorder (alcohol, medication, or drug dependence or addiction); at least nine out of every 10 suicide-related deaths occur in people affected by such a disorder. Other risk factors include the presence of suicide in your family history, the presence of mental disorders in your family history, a personal history of suicide-related behavior, confinement in a jail or prison, living in a home with accessible firearms, a personal history of physical or sexual violence within the home, first- or secondhand exposure to suicides in one’s peer group, and third-party exposure to suicide attempts by celebrated or admired public figures.

New Findings

In the study published in Psychological Medicine, researchers from Stanford University and Sweden’s Lund University assessed the suicide risks over an eight-year period in more than 7 million Swedish citizens. This large-scale approach was made possible through access to a national health registry maintained by the Swedish government. During the period under consideration, slightly more than 8,700 of the study participants killed themselves.

After reviewing their findings, the researchers concluded that the No. 1 non-mental health-related risk factor for suicide in men was being unmarried; other secondary factors that ranked highly among men included low educational status and a relatively young age. The No. 1 non-mental health-related suicide risk factor for women was lack of a job; generally speaking, mental disorders played a larger role in overall suicide risks for women than they did for men. The research team also assessed the influence of various physical health problems on suicide risks, and concluded that the conditions most capable of increasing those risks include asthma, cancer, strokes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which encompasses both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In addition to drawing general conclusions about various risks for suicide, the authors of the study detailed the levels of risk for individuals affected by specific mental and physical health issues. For example, people with major depression kill themselves 32 times more often than the average mentally and physically healthy individual. People with anxiety disorders kill themselves 15 times more often, while people with emphysema or chronic bronchitis kill themselves three times more often. Divorced people and other individuals with poor or destabilized social connections commit suicide more than two times more often than the general population.

Posted on July 26th, 2013
Posted in Mental Health

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