April 23, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 120—Suicide, and older adults

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents aged 10 to 18 in the United States. In fact, in 2019 alone, more than 2,144 adolescents completed suicide. A study from Indiana University found male, Black and sexual minorities are increasingly at risk of attempting suicide – whether or not they’ve previously exhibited suicidal ideation or formulated a suicide plan. The researchers examined the 1999-2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national school-based survey conducted biannually by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results revealed significant disparities in trends based upon sex, racial/ethnic identity, and sexual orientation in distinct suicidal profiles over the past 28 years. The data suggest that the trends in suicidal subgroups of high school students in the U.S. are different and that male, Black and sexual minorities are more likely to be in the group with suicide attempt only, without concurrently thinking or planning suicide. IU Assistant Professor Yunyu Xiao led the study. Xiao says all the measures of suicidal behaviors were self-reported and may be affected by recall and social desirability bias. For example, adolescents may underreport their suicidal ideation and plans in the past year due to the fear of stigma. Researchers say more targeted and tailored suicide prevention programs are urgently needed to address the racial/ethnic and sex differences in suicidal behaviors among adolescents over time. Xiao says the results have the potential of guiding suicide prevention programs targeting the most at-risk racial/ethnic and sex subpopulations, but there’s still a lot to learn about the social determinants of health factors associated with trends of suicidal subgroups. While there is a current push for policy action and legislation regarding investment in suicide prevention, we still don’t fully understand the impact of structural racism, housing segregation, social networks, neighborhoods, cultural interpretation and substance use on adolescents attempting suicide without signs.

In other news, research shows that older adults are the fastest growing demographic in Central Indiana, with one in every five Hoosiers over the age of 65 by the year 2030. Researchers at The Polis Center at IUPUI are working to better understand the population trends, notable changes, and basic needs of this growing demographic and recently released their findings in the State of Aging in Central Indiana Report. The report is a collaboration between the Polis Center and Central Indiana Senior Fund, the IU Center for Aging Research and the IU Public Policy Institute’s Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy. According to the report, one in 10 older adults faces food insecurity, and many people experience diminished access to transportation as they age, which further limits access to other resources. Additionally, the report found that some older adults described challenges to remaining in their own homes, and providers report difficulties accessing some older adults who need assistance. Meanwhile, one in three older adults feels lonely and isolated, despite the awareness by more than half of community activities in which to participate. When it comes to seniors, the report found that cancer is the leading cause of death among adults age 55 to 84 years of age, and heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults 85 and older. And while health care is generally accessible in Central Indiana, rural areas suffer from a lack of providers with a geriatric specialty. Older adults are also typically a caregiver for others, with four in five older adults providing care for another person and two in five providing care for another adult age 60 and older. Additionally, the report found that aging is different based on people’s race, ethnicity, income levels and other factors. Systemic inequity – which includes systemic racism and biases against gender, income, sexual orientation, and others – exists across multiple systems. Karen Frederickson Comer, Polis Center director, says the report provides a wealth of information about local conditions that will be used to prompt community conversation and action toward achieving more equitable and healthy aging.