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Age, depression, drugs linked to suicide.

Age, Depression, Drugs Linked to Suicide

Teenagers should be just as concerned about their elders committing suicide as the other way around, according to recent statistics calculated by psychologist Richard Wetzel of Washington University in St. Louis.

According to Wetzel, suicide rates for all white women, for all black men and women, and for white men under 30 years old appear to be dropping. Though they remain high, rates for all people over 40 have dropped 40 percent since 1933, he says, while rates among teenagers have declined slightly since 1977.

Wetzel, who used figures from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and from various medical examiners' offices around the United States, says the people at the highest risk for suicide are white men over 55 years old and between 20 and 35 years old. Other research shows that suicide among the younger group is linked to depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.

In the October ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY, the UCSD researchers present their analysis of 283 suicide victims from 1981-83. They found:

* 89 percent were 20 years old or older.

* 53 percent of those under 30 were posthumously diagnosed as drug abusers, compared with 17 percent of the general population of that age. These victims tended to abuse several substances at the same time.

* 39 percent of the under-30 suicide victims suffered depression and 12 percent suffered psychosis. This group also showed a higher incidence of both depression and drug and alcohol abuse than seen in the past 30 years.

* Only one-third of suicide victims had received mental health treatment during the last year of life, and only half had ever received treatment at all.

In the same journal, three researchers from the United Medical and Dental Schools and the City University, London, charted trends in English and Welsh suicide victims since 1921. They found that people over 45 in England and Wales are less likely to commit suicide than are their younger counterparts, a trend that began in the 1960s. Preventive measures, the researchers say, may have helped.

These findings highlight the need for preventive action, according to Wetzel, who spoke last week at a conference at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He notes that rates of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse -- long considered risk factors for suicide -- among people younger than 30 relate directly to rates of suicide in that age group. Historically, he says, depression has been a significant factor in actual and attempted suicides in this age range. "People in their 20s and 30s are more likely [than people over 40] to have been depressed at some time in their life," he says.

Early identification of people at risk is crucial but still "relatively primitive," and, Wetzel says, there are no reliable chemical, biological or psychological tests for suicidal tendencies. Nevertheless, "the important thing," he says, "is to get these people into treatment before they kill themselves."
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Author:Kleist, Trina
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 11, 1986
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