Mental Health

New study finds ethnic variation in suicide method: guns vs. hanging

suicide method

A new study has found ethnic variation in suicide method and suicide location in a sample of 1,145 suicide deaths from 2009 to 2016 in a Northern California county.

Guns were found to be the most common suicide method for Whites and African Americans, versus hanging for Latinos and Asians.

The study found that firearms were the most common suicide method for Whites and African Americans, whereas hanging was the most common suicide method for Latino/a/x and API (Asian/Pacific Islander) decedents.

In fact, when considering the data in aggregate, hanging represented the most prevalent method of suicide death, which is consistent with other data from California. In terms of suicide location, White decedents were more likely to commit suicide at home than API decedents and African American decedents.

Suicide method: risk assessment and prevention

The study has implications for culturally-informed suicide risk assessment and prevention.

First, the authors write, future work should consider the cultural processes that explain ethnic variations in suicide method and suicide location. This line of research would likely benefit from interviews with survivors of attempted suicide, who might be able to explain the rationale behind their chosen location (e.g., likelihood of being found, shame).

Second, clinicians should strongly consider including planned suicide location as part of their risk assessment efforts. This would allow them to include the planned location as a warning sign to e.g. family members, and reduce the likelihood that the suicidal person is alone in the planned location.

Focus on making hanging more difficult

Third, clinicians should consider restrictions on hanging-related items, such as belts, ropes, and exposed beams.

The authors point out that there has been significant work on restricting access to firearms, but only minimal work on restricting access to hanging, which is the most prevalent suicide method for Latino/a/x and API individuals.

Currently, the literature suggests that there is not much point in trying to restrict hanging, due to the ubiquitous nature of hanging possibilities. Yet this new study highlights the need to study the feasibility and effectiveness of restricting the means of hanging. As an example, future research can investigate the efficacy of counseling.

A limited scope, but nonetheless broadly relevant

The authors acknowledge that their current study has limitations. African Americans, for example, were under-represented in this study (n = 27). Second, sub-group analyses of API and Latino/a/x populations were not possible, as sufficient data was not available. Third, other ethnic groups were absent from the current analysis due to low numbers (e.g., Native American/Alaskan Native decedents).

Although this analysis represents only a single county in the United States, it nonetheless contributes to the suicide prevention literature by highlighting ethnic variations in suicide method and suicide location. In turn, these findings offer guidance for the prevention of suicides across all locations and ethnic identities.

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Study:Ethnic variations in suicide method and location: An analysis of decedent data
Authors: Brandon Hoeflei, Lorna Chiu, Gabriel Corpus, Mego Lien, Michelle A. Jorden, and Joyce Chu
Published in: Death Studies 
Publication date: August 13, 2020
Photo: by Ethan Sykes via Unsplash