September 13, 2017 / 9:47 PM / a year ago

U.S. suicide attempts up most among younger adults, less educated

By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - Young adults with low levels of education and people with mental health disorders bore the greatest burden of a recent increase in suicide attempts in the U.S., a new study shows.

Suicide prevention efforts may need to focus most on those two groups, the research team suggests.

“We should be focusing on young adults from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds as well as the ones who made previous suicide attempts and have some common psychiatric disorders,” said lead author Dr. Mark Olfson, of Columbia Psychiatry in New York City.

Olfson’s team writes in JAMA Psychiatry that the rate of suicides in the U.S. increased about 2 percent between 2006 and 2014.

One way to reduce suicides is to target prevention strategies toward people at high risk, such as people who recently tried to kill themselves, Olfson and colleagues note. They cite a Swedish study in which the rate of suicide in the year after a suicide attempt was 100 times higher than the rate in the general population.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed survey data collected in 2004-2005 and 2012-2013. Nearly 70,000 U.S. adults were asked the same questions during those two periods.

The proportion of adults reporting a suicide attempt in the past three years rose from 0.62 percent in 2004-2005 to 0.79 percent in 2012-2013.

In both surveys, most suicide attempts occurred among women and people younger than age 50.

Over the study period, the risk of suicide attempts grew 0.48 percent among people ages 21 to 34, compared to 0.06 percent among people 65 and older.

The risk also grew 0.49 percent for people with only a high school diploma, compared to 0.03 percent among people with a college degree.

The risk of suicide attempts also grew to a greater extent among people with antisocial personality disorder or histories of violent behavior, anxiety or depression than it did in people without mental health issues.

The study can’t say why these groups experienced a greater increase in suicide attempts than other populations, Olfson told Reuters Health.

One possibility, he said, is that young adults and people with lower levels of education may be harder hit by the recent recession.

“We can’t say for sure that that is what we’re seeing, but it at least explains part of the trend and the differences over time,” said Olfson.

He said policies and attention can be directed to these groups.

If healthcare providers wait to intervene until people are considering their options to kill themselves, it may be too late, Dr. Eric Caine, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, wrote in an editorial accompanying the new study.

“Given the cumulative frequency of family, legal, and financial problems, it behooves us to look beyond the walls of our clinics and offices to engage vulnerable individuals and families in diverse settings such as courts and jails, social service agencies, and perhaps the streets long before they have become ‘suicidal,” he wrote.

SOURCE: and JAMA Psychiatry, online September 13, 2017.

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