When one percent of a state’s working population loses a job, suicide-related behaviors increase by two to three percentage points among girls and black teens in the following year, according to a new study by Duke University.
Among girls, thoughts of suicide and plans to commit suicide increased. Among black teens, thoughts of suicide, suicide plans, and suicide attempts all increased.
“Job loss can be an unanticipated shock to a community,” said lead author Dr. Anna Gassman-Pines, a teacher of public policy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a faculty fellow of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.
“We know that suicide increases among adults when communities are hit with widespread layoffs. Now we have evidence that teenagers are similarly affected.”
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is based on a nationally representative survey of 403,457 adolescents from 1997 to 2009. The researchers also examined mass layoffs and closings in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, using data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau defines a mass closing as a layoff affecting more than 50 workers.
In their analysis, Gassman-Pines and her Duke co-authors, Drs. Elizabeth Ananat and Christina Gibson-Davis, controlled for other variables, including the poverty rate and overall unemployment.
“Job loss was not simply a proxy for other aspects of the state’s economic climate, but instead represented a meaningful economic shock, which led to changes in girls’ and black adolescents’ suicide-related behaviors,” wrote Gassman-Pines.
For girls, mass layoffs appear to worsen suicide tendencies already in existence. On the whole, girls have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and planning than boys. In general, rates of suicide attempts are greater among black teenagers than among white teens.
The study confirms previous evidence that factory closings, mass layoffs, and other economic shocks have widespread negative effects on communities, affecting far more individuals than just the person who loses the job.
For example, prior research by Gassman-Pines, Ananat, and Gibson-Davis found that after states experienced widespread job loss, test scores dropped among eighth-graders in that state.
Suicide is the third most common cause of death among American youths ages 10 to 24, causing 4,600 deaths annually. An even larger group of 157,000 youths ages 10 to 24 are treated for self-inflicted wounds each year. Gassman-Pines said she hopes the research will help mental health workers recognize teens at risk for suicide.
Source: Duke University