Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Risk Determinants of Suicide Attempts among Adolescents

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Risk Determinants of Suicide Attempts among Adolescents

Article excerpt

The calm, Cool face of the river, Asked me for a kiss -Langston Hughes

I

Introduction

SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR HAS ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF BOTH POLICYMAKERS AND ACADEMICS alike and has given rise to a number of governmental resolutions and academic papers. From among the former, we can cite as examples the inclusion of a suicide index as an indicator of health status in the Healthy People 2010 report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000), the official Surgeon General's Gail to Action to Prevent Suicide from the U.S. Public Health Service (1999), and the 1997 Senate resolution that recognized suicide as a national problem and declared suicide prevention to be a national priority (S. Res. 84). With respect to academic papers, the earliest of these argued that suicide could only be explained sociologically (Durkheim 1897; Halbwachs 1930; Henry and Short 1954; Gibbs and Martin 1964). Since then, the focus of research has passed to the analysis of the evolution of aggregate suicide rates, with the conclusion being drawn that, in accordance with the relative cohort size model of Easterlin (1978), higher cohort sizes imply higher suicide rates (O'Connell 1975; Smith and Welch 1981; Holinger and Offer 1982; Ahlburg and Schapiro 1984; Pampel 1996). This result can be explained by the fact that a higher cohort size will generate greater competition for, for example, employment; this, in turn, implies greater psychological pressure that will affect individual behavior and thus raise the possibility of suicide.

Despite the clear relevance of suicidal behavior for society as a whole, (1) economists do not appear to have paid any particular attention to determining why people consider taking such a tragic step. The first of the limited exceptions to this rule is the seminar contribution of Hamermesh and Soss (1974). In this paper, the authors develop an economic theory of suicide on the basis of the argument that much of the variation in aggregate suicide rates is due to economic decision making and, therefore, that such a variation can be explained by using hypotheses derived from economic theory. In this line, and although the behavior of the suicidal individual is complex, there would appear to be some habitual economic determinants, such as income (South 1984; Burnley 1994, 1995) or unemployment (Lester, Motohashi, and Yang 1992; Yang, Stack, and Lester 1992; Morrell et al. 1993; Cantor, Slatrer, and Najman 1995; Johansson and Sundquist 1997), together with other sociodemographic characteristics, such as marital status (Motohashi 1991; Burr, McCall, and Powell-Griner 1994; Lester 1995; Kposowa, Breault, and Singh 1995), ethnicity (Jedlicka, Shin, and Lee 1977; Davis 1979; South 1984; Lester 1988), family stressors (Bonner and Rich 1987; Pfeffer 1989; Morano, Cisler, and Lemerond 1993), or the possession of guns (Boyd 1983; Sommers 1984; Yang and Lester 1991; Southwick 1997). (2)

This public health problem is especially worrying among adolescents, with aggregate rates among this age group tripling from 4.5 per 100,000 in 1950 to 13.5 per 100,000 in 1990 (Cutler, Glaeser, and Norberg 2000). Moreover, throughout the 1990s suicide was the third highest cause of death among adolescents, headed only by accidents at 38.5 per 100,000, and homicide at 20.3 per 100,000 (Freeman 1998; Cutler, Glaeser, and Norberg 2000). Focusing on young people, Freeman (1998) constitutes an excellent paper that analyzes the demographic, economic, and social determinants of suicide among adolescents in order to identify risk factors that could be used by policymakers to redirect prevention efforts toward more effective policies. Quite apart from the clear relevance of this contribution, however, and knowing, as we do, of the behavioral distinction between suicide attempts and suicide completions, one equally important aspect is to analyze the particular factors that influence the decision to attempt suicide. …

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