Professional News
Young Adults Show Highest Rate of Suicidal Thoughts
Psychiatric News
Volume 47 Number 2 page 7-10

Approximately 8.3 million U.S. adults, or 3.7 percent of the population, contemplated suicide in the prior year, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Published October 21, 2011, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the study also found that 1 percent of adults made plans to commit suicide in the prior year, while 0.5 percent attempted suicide.

For the study, Alex Crosby, M.D., of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control led a team of researchers from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in analyzing data on 92,264 individuals over age 18 who participated in SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) during 2008 and 2009.

All respondents to the NSDUH were asked during in-person interviews whether they had thought seriously about trying to kill themselves at any time during the preceding 12 months. Those who reported having had serious suicidal thoughts were then asked if they had made any plans or attempts to kill themselves in the past year.

The CDC’s new report summarizes both national and state-level data on suicide-related issues by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. The agency noted that this is the first report to present state-specific findings on suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

According to the CDC, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors was significantly higher among adults aged 18 to 29 than for respondents aged 30 and older. Of those in the younger age group, 5.7 percent reported having suicidal thoughts in the prior year, 1.6 percent reported planning suicide, and 1 percent said they attempted suicide. This compares with 3.1 percent, 0.8 percent, and 0.3 percent, respectively, for the older cohort.

Suicide plans and attempts did not differ significantly by gender; 3.9 percent of women reported having serious suicidal thoughts in the prior year, compared with 3.5 percent of men.

Suicidal ideation was higher among non-Hispanic white adults (3.9 percent) than any other race/ethnicity, while non-Hispanic black adults reported the greatest number of suicide attempts (0.7 percent). Suicidal thoughts and planning were consistently lowest among Asians.

When considering geographic region as a factor, the survey showed that suicidal thoughts were greater among adults living in the Midwest and West (4.3 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively) than those in the Northeast and South (3.5 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively). Suicidal plans followed the same regional trends as thoughts, though with less variation, while there was no difference in actual suicide attempts by region.

Residents of Georgia reported the least number of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts (2.1 percent, 0.1 percent, and 0.1 percent, respectively), while 6.8 percent of those living in Utah reported thoughts of suicide, and Rhode Islanders had the greatest number of suicide attempts and plans (1.5 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively).

“This research underscores the importance of collecting and using local information for prevention purposes,” said the CDC in a press release announcing the new report. The agency recommended the implementation of suicide-prevention strategies such as education campaigns for the general public and intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy for those at heightened risk.

According to psychiatrist Paula Clayton, M.D., medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the study confirms much of the existing data on suicidal thoughts and behaviors, though the finding that there is no significant difference in suicide attempts between men and women is “startling.”

“The results of this study are more useful on a global basis than an individual one,” said Clayton, pointing out that 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from a mental illness. “Psychiatrists should continue to focus on treating and keeping in treatment those with psychiatric disorders.”

“Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Adults Aged ≥ 18 Years — United States, 2008–2009” is posted at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6013.pdf.inline-graphic-1.gif

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