Research: suicide and social differences

Though the Insight Blog isn’t intended as a comprehensive source for recent research about suicide, we are planning to do occasional posts that call attention to studies of particular interest for those who do prevention work in Washington state.

This research post focuses on two studies that examine significant differences in suicide rates across social groups – in one case, groups defined by race and age, and in the other case by gender and military status.

Black children at risk: The suicide rate for children ages 5 to 11 has remained stable during the last two decades, but a new study reports that the overall rate is masking important racial differences. During that period, the suicide rate for black children has increased significantly while at the same time the rate for white children has declined significantly.

Those findings were reported late last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics. The study found that the suicide rate for black schoolchildren rose from 1.36 per million in the 1993-97 time period to 2.54 per million by 2008-12.  The comparable figures for white children were 1.14 in 1993-97 and 0.77 in 2008-12.

What caused this difference? The article doesn’t say, though it does list a variety of environmental, physiological and behavioral differences between black and white children that it speculates could be linked to suicide.

 Suicide rate for women veterans extraordinarily high: The Los Angeles Times reported this month that women veterans are dying by suicide at a rate that’s almost as high as male veterans. What makes that finding surprising is a comparison with the nonveteran population, where the suicide rate for women is far lower than for men.

The Times article, based on new data from the Veterans Administration, reported that the suicide rate among female veterans was six times higher than the rate for women who are not veterans. The difference is biggest is among the youngest veterans. In that group, The Times said, female veterans die by suicide at rates nearly 12 times that of female nonveterans.

As with the study on schoolchildren, it’s not clear what’s driving the differences in suicide rates. The Times article raised the possibility that the military has attracted a disproportionate number of women who are at high risk for suicide or who experience traumatic events that increase their risk for suicide. – By Randal Beam, UW Dart Endowed Professorship in Journalism and Trauma in the Department of Communication