The news earlier this week of actor-comedian Robin Williams’s death drew attention to increased suicides among middle-aged men. But a study released today focuses on another group vulnerable to suicide: teens living in areas where statewide job layoffs have occurred.
In their study, researchers from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy in Durham, North Carolina, noted that economic downturns are known to increase adult suicides. The effect on adolescents, however, isn’t as clear.
“The relationships between changes in economic circumstances and the suicide-related behaviors of adolescents have received relatively little attention,” the researchers wrote in today’s online release in the American Journal of Public Health.
To gain a better understanding, the researchers analyzed data on adolescent suicide from 403 457 youths with a mean age of 16 years who participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1997 to 2009. They explored responses to questions asking the youths whether, in the previous 12 months, they had seriously considered attempting suicide, made a plan for how they would try to take their own life, or actually attempted suicide.
The researchers also examined Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on mass layoffs for each state and the District of Columbia. Mass layoffs were defined as affecting more than 50 workers.
Overall, 16.3% of youths included in the analysis considered suicide, 12.6% made suicide plans, and 8.5% attempted suicide. The analysis showed that statewide job losses increased suicide-related behaviors among all girls and black adolescents in the study. Boys and white or Hispanic youths weren’t affected.
Among girls, 20.3% considered, 15% planned, and 10.4% attempted suicide. Among black youths, 13.9% considered, 11.2% planned, and 9.5% attempted suicide. The researchers reported that when 1% of a state’s working-age population lost jobs, the likelihood that girls and black youths would consider, plan, or attempt suicide increased by 2% to 3%. The increases were statistically significant, with the exception of girls’ suicide attempts.
By controlling for variables such as poverty rate and overall unemployment, lead author Anna Gassman-Pines, PhD, said job loss wasn’t a proxy for states’ other economic problems. “Instead, [job loss] represented a meaningful economic shock, which led to changes in girls’ and black adolescents’ suicide-related behaviors,” she said in a statement.
Gassman-Pines and her colleagues noted that suicide is the third leading cause of death among youths and young adults aged 10 to 24 years, claiming 4600 lives annually. Another 157 000 in that age group are treated annually for self-inflicted injuries.