Ethnic Differences in Patterns of Suicide Across the Life Cycle

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Garlow, Steven J and Purselle, David and Heninger, Michael (2005) Ethnic Differences in Patterns of Suicide Across the Life Cycle. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162 (2). pp. 319-323.


Objective: The authors analyzed suicide across the life cycle of different ethnic groups in an urban population equally divided between blacks (44.6%) and whites (48.1%). Method: Two data sets were used: 1) all suicides in Fulton County, Ga., from January 1994 through December 2002 and 2) all U.S. suicides reported by the National Center for Injury Prevention in 1999 and 2000. Results: The population rates for suicide in Fulton County were 1.22 per 100,000 black females, 10.74 per 100,000 black males, 9.89 per 100,000 white females, and 21.04 per 100,000 white males. In Fulton County, age at completed suicide was more than a decade lower in blacks than in whites. The median age of black victims was 32 years, with an interquartile range (IQR) of 23–45, and the median for whites was 44 years (IQR=31–58); the difference was significant. The mean ages of victims who were black (mean=36.1 years, SD=17.0) and of “other” race (mean=35.7, SD=14.3) were significantly lower than the mean for whites (mean=46.2, SD=18.5). The national data were similar, but minorities accounted for an even smaller percentage of suicides. Median age at completed suicide for African Americans nationally was 34 years (IQR=24–45) compared to 44 years (IQR=32–58) for Caucasians. Conclusions: African Americans commit suicide at rates much lower than those for whites, but they do so when much younger and they have a narrow, age-defined window of vulnerability. Age-specific psychopathological processes and protective factors may define suicide risk for each demographic group.