STUMP » Articles » Read the News with Meep: On Suicide Trends by Race (and Sex) in 2021 (and Earlier) » 18 November 2022, 06:35

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Read the News with Meep: On Suicide Trends by Race (and Sex) in 2021 (and Earlier)  

by

18 November 2022, 06:35

I’m going to do this one a little differently, in that I’m not going to give you the result at the beginning, but take you on a trip with me. I won’t tell you where we’ll end up, but you’ll have an idea of the direction.

It starts with this headline from UPI:

Suicide rates dip among White Americans, rise among minorities

I’m taking you along for my thought process, and how I look into these things.

How I found it

I come across these stories in a variety of ways.

Sometimes, people send them to me directly, either knowing I’m interested in mortality trends, or they have a question about it specifically. You are always welcome to do that, by the way — the best way to contact me is to email me: marypat.campbell@gmail.com. This post has info on other methods of getting in touch.

The second way is through my news searches and email lists. I have loads of these. Through my work, I have subscriptions to insurance industry and financial news, where I’m signed up to regular news highlight lists from the likes of Think Advisor or the Wall Street Journal. My main job is insurance industry-related research, and I don’t write about this on my blog, but the more general mortality trends do pop up from time to time.

The third way is through my general online scanning, such as on twitter or blog-reading. That’s how I came across this one. I saw this via a different headline on Instapundit, which was listed as a different headline at the time: “Preliminary data for 2021 indicate suicide rates for all three race and ethnicity groups increased from 2020 to 2021.” It’s the same story….but it must have changed by the time I got there. I’ve been reading Instapundit for over 20 years now, and I get all sorts of tangential stories from there.

For both that headline, and the one I see now, my first thought was that:

“Did they look at age-adjusted rate, or crude rate?”

I have reason to believe the crude rate for death by suicide for white people went down before I pull that number (which I usually don’t graph for comparison purposes), and I will explain why in a bit.

But let us look at statistics I have posted before. The thing is, I marinate in death statistics all the time, and some of them I’m extremely familiar with, and some I need to refresh my memory on.

Unfortunately, suicide statistics are a set of stats that I’m very familiar with.

A look at suicide rates in prior posts

For World Suicide Prevention Day in September (2022), I did an update on suicide mortality trends.

Here is the graph with both crude rate and age-adjusted rate.

They both went up.

The increase in 2021 brought the age-adjusted death rate back to a level close to the peak, which was in 2018, so far.

I also did a break-out by race and sex, and this is comparing age-adjusted death rates, not crude rates.

You may be looking at this graph, and the headline above, and wondering how it could be correct.

I know how, and my Lord, they were right to highlight the minority suicide rate trend, even though the rates are so much lower than white males (except for Native American males — the Native American community and death rates from so many nasty causes (including COVID) is horrendous, and I will do a post on that another time.)

The article itself

I’ve not even given you the text of the article yet.

Suicide rates dip among White Americans, rise among minorities

In a finding that illustrates just how deeply racial disparities permeate the U.S. healthcare system, a new government report finds that suicide rates dipped slightly among White Americans while they rose for Black and Hispanic Americans.

“Although the recent decline in suicide rates for non-Hispanic White persons is encouraging, the continued increase for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic persons is concerning,” said study author Sally Curtin, a researcher for the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.

“Suicide has declined recently for White persons, in total, and for those involving the three leading methods — firearms and suffocation, including hangings, and poisoning,” she added. “Rates continued to increase for Black and Hispanic persons for those involving firearms and suffocation. These differing trends deserve our attention.”

Suicide rates for White people increased from 2000 to 2018, but then dropped from 18 per 100,000 people to 17 per 100,000 in 2020. But among Black and Hispanic people, the suicide rate continued to increase to nearly 8 per 100,000.

Still, the decline in suicide rates among White people appears to be short-lived, Curtin noted. Preliminary data for 2021 indicate suicide rates for all three race and ethnicity groups increased from 2020 to 2021, although the increase was less for White people (3%) compared with Black (13%) and Hispanic (8%) people, she said.

Okay, so the headline is about the changes in 2020, not 2021.

So it wasn’t even a crude rate vs. age-adjusted death rate issue.

It was a “Are you talking about 2020 or 2021?” issue.

That’s far more boring. They could have specified that in the headline and reduced the ambiguity. But then you wouldn’t have clicked through, eh?

The “rates rise for all races” narrative is for 2021, and that’s more recent. But that’s not what the NCHS wanted to be highlighted from their report.

Comparing the rate of change and age structure

The thing is, there really is something interesting going on, and I think you don’t see it in the words, and you’re not even really seeing it in the graphs I’m making above.

It’s that this story is about the rate of change, and not the relative levels of suicide rates. And I was wondering what was driving this. The thing is, I know that for white people, the highest suicide rates are among old white men. But the highest growth in suicide rates for the overall population has been among young adults. Maybe some of the growth different is coming from the disparities in trend by age:

Male trend by age — really coming down for the oldest men:

I will be digging into this more with upcoming Movember posts.

Focusing on the pandemic changes alone – still very bad

But let’s just look only at the percentage changes for the two years

I could see that from eyeballing my graphs, and yeah, that’s pretty bad.

I don’t know if I would say it’s lack of access to healthcare that necessarily is driving this, though with respect to the Native American community, I bet their access during 2020 and 2021 was awful. I think Congress should investigate that, especially if the Department of the Interior was directly involved in that lack.

Long-term trend has been hideous

Here is the 20-year trend:

Again, I’m not sure that access to healthcare is the specific problem here. Suicide rates have been trending upward for most of the groups split out here, some horrendously.

This is the table for the cumulative 20-year change:

Yikes.

This trend is awful, no matter how you slice it.

I understand that if you have health researchers, they may argue that effective intervention relates to healthcare access. This is the report linked in the UPI study, and some of this relates to the method (which you’ll note I’ve not been writing about).

The report is actually only remarking on the trend, and not on the causes of the trend – I’ve talked with reporters before, and I suppose they want something other than “it went up” or “it went down”. The stats they’re looking at don’t include Asian and Native American, as mine does, and don’t include the provisional stats, but obviously, they were familiar with them.

But I don’t know how one can argue the issue is healthcare access per se, given how much higher suicide rates are for white men compared to black men and Hispanic men. To be sure, some white men will have less healthcare access, but that’s not the primary issue.

In any case, there is a story with respect to suicide trends, and it’s the same depressing trend I’ve mentioned in prior posts: it’s bad.

And yes, the trend for most minority groups has been worse than for white groups.

Takeaways

1. Sometimes the “catch” was even simpler than you thought (in this case, missing info about what year the trend occurred)

2. Suicide trends have been bad

3. I don’t know why they’ve been bad, they just have

4. Yes, it can be a lot of work to read the news with meep, that’s just how it is


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