Sex and race differences in suicide related to major depression.




Am J Psychiatry

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Life is filled with unexpected events such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, major illness, or other catastrophic events, not everybody becomes depressed. Most individuals suffer only temporary feelings of depression and find ways to adjust to life's challenges. However, there are certain individuals who experience a major depressive episode when faced by stressful situations. Depression has been classified as a mood disorder or "affective" disorder. Mood disorders are among the most common health problems doctors see every day. The causes of depression are too complex to be totally explained by a single social, biological, or developmental theory. Several factors seem to work together to trigger depressive disorders. Heredity does seem to have a role, as studies have shown. Depressive disorders and suicide tend to run in families, and first-degree relatives of patients with depression are one and one half to three times more likely to develop depression than are people with no depression in the immediate family.1

A study conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institution determined the suicide rates, due to depression, in ethnic groups across the country. The information regarding major depression was obtained from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study of the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Epidemiologic Survey. The sociodemographic effects for depression were based on individuals who were separated or divorced, earning low incomes, or not working for pay. The depression rates were compared to the suicide rates in different ethnic groups. The 1-year prevalence rates for depression were recorded. The results were as follows: 3.6% for whites, 3.5% for blacks, 2.8% for Mexican Americans, 2.5% for Cuban Americans, and 6.9% for Puerto Ricans. According to these results, the annual suicide rates were higher in males than females. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans had lower related suicide rates than whites. The authors concluded, “Identifying reasons for differences in suicide rates relative to depression among ethnic groups and between males and females may suggest interventions to reduce suicide rates. Some possibilities are that depression differs in form or severity or that unidentified factors protect against suicide in different subgroups.”2


1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders, 4th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1994:317-391.
2. Oquendo MA, et al. Ethnic and sex differences in suicide rates relative to major depression in the United States. Am J Psychiatry. 2001 Oct;158(10):1652-8.