Suicidal behavior higher among young adults, women and the unemployed

Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 7:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The first study ever to compare U.S. suicide data state by state found that women, the unemployed and young adults have higher rates of non-fatal suicidal behavior than other people.

While Georgia logged the lowest statewide rates among adults ages 18 and over for suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts, the variation in findings among other states was nothing short of remarkable, said Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the study.

The CDC report, which surveyed more than 92,000 Americans, estimated that from 2008-2009, some 8.3 million U.S. adults — about 3.7 percent of the adult population — had suicidal thoughts in the previous year. Roughly 1 percent of U.S. adults, about 2.2 million people, reported making suicide plans in the last year, the study found.

One million, or 0.5 percent of U.S. adults, reported an actual suicide attempt in the last 12 months, said Crosby, the lead author of the study.

Only one-tenth of 1 percent of Georgia adults reported making suicide plans, while Rhode Island led the nation with 2.8 percent.

Only one in 50 Georgia adults, or 2.1 percent, reported suicidal thoughts in the last year, while one in 15 Utah residents did so, topping the nation with a rate of about 6.8 percent of adults, Crosby said.

Delaware and Georgia shared the top spot for the lowest rate of residents reporting a suicide attempt — 0.1 percent. Rhode Island, with 1.5 percent of adults reporting a suicide attempt in the previous 12 months, had nation’s highest rate.

While suicide rates have consistently been higher in Western states, particularly the Rocky Mountain states, Crosby said it has never been fully determined why. The report found that suicidal thoughts were more prevalent among adults in the Midwest and West than for those in the Northeast and the South.

On average, a person died from suicide roughly every 15 minutes in the U.S. in 2008, compared with every 17 minutes in 2007, Crosby said.

In 2008, the last year that data are available, more than 36,000 Americans died of suicide, and another 666,000 people went to hospital emergency rooms for non-fatal, self-inflicted injuries.

Generally, suicide death rates are higher among males, certain racial and ethnic groups, and middle-aged and older adults, Crosby said. But non-fatal suicide behavior — thoughts, plans and attempts — were found to be much higher among young adults ages 18 to 30 than for those 30 and older.

Women also had “significantly higher” rates of suicidal thoughts than males, but there was no gender difference among suicide planning or attempts, the study found.

Among ethnic groups, non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate of suicidal thoughts, followed by non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Both death rates from suicide and non-fatal suicide behaviors are higher among the unemployed than those with jobs, Crosby said.

When the Great Recession began in December 2007, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. By 2008, it had moved up to 10th.

Previous studies have shown a link between the downward business cycle and increased suicidal behavior. But Crosby said researchers probably will never be able to say that the economy was the main cause of a suicide because the act is such a complex human behavior that often has many underlying causes, like mental illness and employment, family and relationship problems.

Selective migration, the demographic composition of the population and social factors like divorce rates and access to health care are thought to contribute to suicidal behavior.

Crosby said the report’s findings will help state public health officials better target their suicide-prevention efforts.

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