Ethnicity might lower black or Hispanic suicide risk, or does it…?

This is a hunk I pulled out of a grant application for young adult suicide prevention. I had this amazing profound thought during the data gathering about the minority and hispanic suicide rate, then a friend brought me back to reality. See if you can catch the drift faster than I did.

Need: “Mental illness and suicide are a sign that one’s life has become intolerable. The solution is to change our life situations.” – Judi Chamberlin, founder of the Recovery Movement 

Our mental health system is rapidly becoming overstretched as we face year after year of consecutive budget cuts. [This is a nice thing to tell traditional type grant funders.] Missouri residents that have no health insurance or Medicaid have very few traditional mental health care options. Our program will create a quantum leap in price and performance for mental health services so that our final customers are the people themselves who need help.

Our program will be supported by membership fees from people who want peer support for emotional distress, and other people who want peer support for getting online for the first time. Because all our business expenses are paid for by our customers, there is no limit to how far across our nation our model can spread. [What’s so ironic is that this funder turned out down this grant application because they said it was unsustainable.]

We need suicide prevention solutions because all 7 mental health centers in our region have a waiting list. Many people are being turned away if they do not have health insurance or Medicaid. Kansas City public television will be airing just next week a news series on several high profile suicides in our community at the end of last year. The Local Show will talk about John McClure , a young executive chef and owner of Starker’s Restaurant. We have also recently lost Don Harmon, the meteorologist of Fox 4 news. In 2009, the last year data is available on the Missouri Information for Community Assessment, this is a problem Kansas City has had for a while.

Table 1: Number of Deaths by Suicide in Kansas City Area Zip Codes

Year

# of Deaths

2000

130

2001

140

2002

115

2003

116

2004

122

2005

132

2006

160

2007

140

2008

157

2009

153

We’ve also explored the community assessment data by neighborhood for 2009, the last year that data was available. It turns out that suicide is more a problem in middle class, middle income, and blue-collar neighborhoods in Kansas City.

Table 2: Deaths by Suicide in Kansas City area zip codes for 2009

Zip Code

Neighborhood

# of Deaths

64012

Belton

5

64015

Blue Springs

7

64052

Independence

5

64055

Independence

5

64057

Independence

4

64068

Liberty

8

64111

Midtown, KCMO

4

64114

Waldo, KCMO

6

64118

Gladstone

7

64134

Bannister Mall area, KCMO

4

64151

Lake Waukomis

7

When broken down by age, race and ethnicity, the death rates in 2009 in Kansas City also show that white people in their middle ages are most at risk. This is true even when the data is corrected for the percent of people in the Missouri Counties of our metro area according to the 2010 census data.

Ages of the 153 people who died by suicide in 2009 in Kansas City

Age

# of deaths

Over 65

16

45 – 64

58

25-44

56

15-24

22

Under 15

1

Our data shows that white people are overrepresented by suicide deaths in 2009. Because these numbers are small, we also analyzed the total of 2747 suicide deaths in the metro area from 1990 – 2009 to see if the pattern was consistent. All of the percentages were within 3% of the same values when looking at all 20 years instead of just the one year shown in the chart below.

Races and ethnicities of the 153 people who died by suicide in Kansas City in 2009

Race/ethnicity

# of deaths

% of suicide deaths

% of Jackson, Platte, and Clay county population

Risk Factor

White

134

88.2%

73.1%

1.20

Black

15

9.8%

18.8%

.52

Hispanic

3

1.9%

7.9%

.24

Why racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in suicide data while overrepresented in almost every other health care risk category is very interesting. It’s possible that these communities still have a stronger sense of taking care of each other with tighter linkages and networking. There might be weaknesses in this data if the deaths are still present but simply underreported. This might be especially true in the Hispanic/Latino community which is often Catholic, viewing suicide as a mortal sin. However, if this data is solid, we have something very important to learn from the minority communities in our city. This is why Wellness Wordworks is building a coalition of organizations from across our metro area who are not typically involved with mental health treatment. It is time to hear from our successful brothers and sisters what we can do to help people who are experiencing emotional distress.

Now…here’s the funny part. Here’s the surprise ending, the part I didn’t pull out of my grant application. I posted this radical idea on Facebook, and my friend totally burst my bubble. He said, “Oh, yeah, minority communities have a much lower rate of reporting suicides.”

Doh! And I thought I was onto something. I do however want to point out that I think suicide is about living a life that is intolerable. Building a better life for people will probably prevent way more suicides than giving people labels and medications for emotional distress. CASPER in New Zealand has links to tons of data about this.

How do you think we can best prevent youth suicide?

Wordworks Blog Author: Corinna West

Corinna West is the founder and creative director of Wellness Wordworks, and is an Olympic Team Member and has a Masters Degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Her Instant Peer Support might be the first in the mental health sector to remove the need for government and charity funding by creating a profitable interaction involving only our business and our direct customers.

1 comment to Ethnicity might lower black or Hispanic suicide risk, or does it…?