Suicide takes more Hispanic lives than most other causes

In the year 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 29,350 Americans took their own lives and 734,000 attempted it, making suicide the 11th-leading cause of death in general and the third-leading cause among young Americans (age 15-24). Government statistics show that 6.08 percent of those who committed suicide were Hispanics, a number greater than Hispanics who died from drug-induced causes and of Alzheimer’s disease.

Several studies conducted by sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have offered some insights into the factors increasing or decreasing the risk of suicide, but many questions about suicide remain unanswered because the appropriate infrastructure to adequately address the reasons is missing.

What data does show is that one of the major causes for suicide is depression. The majority of suicidal people visit a doctor in the months or weeks before their deaths, but not Hispanics. A study found that only 24 percent of Hispanics with depression or anxiety received appropriate care.

Some of the reasons include a lack of access to services:

* Thirty-three percent of the Hispanic population are uninsured and 21.4 percent of them live below the poverty level.

* Language barriers: Close to 40 percent of Hispanics living do not speak English well – diagnosis and treatment of depression, among other mental disorders, depends greatly on the ability of the patient to explain symptoms to their doctor and understand steps for treatment.

* Cultural constraints: Suicidal thoughts, depression and mental illnesses are a taboo subject for most Hispanics, making them less likely to ask for help or talk about it with relatives or friends.

In the year 2000, 1,787 Hispanics committed suicide; 1,525 were male, compared to only 262 females. Although the figures might be interpreted as males being more suicidal than women, in fact more women attempt suicide, but they don’t succeed as often as males because they use less lethal methods. For instance, firearms were the most often utilized method of suicide for men (61.2 percent), compared to women (37.2 percent).

No one really knows why people commit suicide. Physiologists have found that those with low serotonin levels are more likely to be victims than those with higher amounts. Psychologists talk of personality disorders, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and alienation.

The field of sociology discovered that suicide rates are as much a sociological factor as they are psychological. French sociologist Emile Durkheim found that single people were more likely to commit suicide than those who were married, Protestants were more likely than Catholics, urban residents were more than rural ones. Durkheim argued that suicide was related to the nature of the bonds between self and society.

In 1999, for the first time, U.S. Surgeon-General David Satcher issued a call to action to prevent suicide, defining it as a “public health hazard.” In a supplement to a report on mental health, Satcher emphasized that minorities face the greatest challenges, partly because so many of those communities have gone without treatment or have been given substandard care.

Bottom line, suicide is a highly complex phenomenon that involves the interactions between genetic, psychological, biochemical, cultural and societal factors. Prevention begins with awareness and the nation’s ability to understand the problem fully.

“We cannot wait until we have enough African-American psychologists or American Indian or Hispanic psychiatrists,” Satcher said. “We must today find a way to make our system more relevant to the need of these populations.”

The Hispanic community cannot afford to sit and wait for others to “find ways.” Awareness is the first key to prevention. Get the word out – it will save lives.

Erika Robles is a contributing columnist to Readers may send her e-mail at [email protected].