Suicide and depression among Asian and Pacific Islanders in later life: 1992 to 2003

James W. McNally, University of Michigan
Panapasa Sela, University of Michigan

Older Americans represent a population at increased risk of both suicide and depression. While the risks and prevalence of suicide among elders is a well established topic in the research literature, less work has been done among the minority populations of Asians and particularly among Pacific Island populations. Pacific Islanders represent a particular concern as they report high suicide rates at all ages. Because of the small numbers of both Asian and Pacific Island (API) deaths in any given year, these groups are often understudied in the mental health literature as they represent specific methodological challenges in establishing both prevalence and occurrence rates of depression and suicide. The research presented in this paper extends earlier work examining mortality data for these populations employing two independent sources on mental health outcomes. Pooled mortality data from files released by NCHS for a period from 1992 to 2003 examine gross patterns of suicide among these populations and examine suicide rates by detailed race and ethnicity which were first made available on the 1992 data files. The paper also uses pooled data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for the same period to examine patterns of hospital admissions for these populations where there is a diagnosis of depression or other mental health condition. Analysis from these sources finds that while the risks Asian and Pacific Island elderly face in terms of both depression and suicide are less than those found among White US populations, the rates are increasing across time for API populations while it has declined among other racial groups for the same periods. The results provide a framework that can be used in the development of both policy to address these concerns and to help develop additional analysis using newly emerging data resources.

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Presented in Poster Session 3