Native Americans may have higher rates of attempted suicide than other ethnic groups, but differences disappear when controlling for mental illness and sociodemographic factors, researchers said here.
In fact, risk of attempted suicide was nearly equalized across all racial groups—whites, blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asians—when controlling for these factors, reported Shay-Lee Bolton, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, during an oral session at the American Psychiatric Association meeting.
Suicide is a major public health problem in the U.S., with 34,000 deaths in 2007, the last year for which data were available, Bolton said. Prevention is a top priority, but the factors that drive patients to such attempts are unclear, particularly the relationship between ethnicity and suicidal behavior.
In fact, some studies have shown a higher risk among whites compared with blacks or Hispanics, while others have found the exact opposite. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Native Americans had the highest rates of suicide among all ethnic groups in the U.S.
Like the latest CDC report, Bolton and colleagues found that Native Americans had the highest rates of attempted suicide at 6.5%, which was more than double that of whites, blacks, and Hispanics, who each reported a prevalence of around 3%.
Asians had the lowest percentage at 2%.
They also saw that across almost all racial groups, attempted suicide rates were two to three times greater for females than males, except among Asians, who had no sex differences in suicide rates, Bolton said.
Contrary to what the researchers expected, those who were foreign-born were less likely to attempt suicide than those born in the U.S., except among Asians, who were more likely to attempt suicide if they had migrated to the U.S.
Bolton called this finding interesting and novel given that many people think immigrants “may be more vulnerable, but in this case it seems they’re somewhat protected.”
Across all groups, suicide risk increased with decreasing income and increased with greater prevalence of mental disorders, Bolton said.
If they had any lifetime Axis I or II disorders, whites were 15 times more likely to have attempted suicide, Asians were 12 times more likely, Hispanics nine times, and blacks six times, Bolton said.