[2023 KD Data Journalist Internship: Project Results ②] Suicide Rates for Korean Americans Compared to Other Races

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By: Haeun Kim, Ellis Chae, and Katelyn Yu (Under supervision of Sarah Bang)

In recent years, the rise in suicide rates has transformed into a critical public health crisis, affecting people of all ages and races. From little less than 40,000 in 2011, the number of deaths due to suicide rose to 48,495 in 2018. However, between 2018 and 2019, there was a minor decline in which the number of deaths reached 47,674. And this decline continued into the pandemic year of 2020 until it rose again in 2021. Specifically, Koreans were the race that had the highest number of deaths due to suicide in the US (excluding multiracial groups) until 2020, when it ranked 2nd after American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 2018, 3.74% of deaths for Korean Americans were from suicide. But in 2020, the percentage dropped down to 2.13%. The drop in the number of suicides in 2020 is apparent for all races (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Hispanic, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and White). However, the drop is most significant for Korean Americans as it dropped 1.09% from the previous year, whereas other races experienced a drop between 0.119% ~ 0.738%.

So why did the number of suicides drop in 2020? When the pandemic hit in 2020, the US saw a spike in the homicide rate and drug overdose deaths. Particularly after the number of suicides increased in previous years until 2019, it can be assumed that the number and rate of suicides in the nation would follow that pattern. Especially after the risk factors for suicide increased during 2020, such as mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and job and financial stress, it’s easier to predict that the rate would increase. However, the factors influencing suicide rates are multifaceted, so an increase in risk factors doesn’t mean an increase in suicide deaths, as the prevention factors also increased during that year.

But even with the decrease in 2020, suicide has been the leading cause of death for Korean Americans ages 5-34 each year throughout 2018-2021. It has been the case for all Asian races (Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese), American Indians & Alaska Natives, and Hawaiians. But compared to all the races, deaths due to suicide are significantly higher for Koreans for ages 5-34. In those years, 33.65% of deaths for Korean teens and young adults in American were due to suicide versus 14.01% for all races.

Looking at age groups and sex, men always had higher suicide rates for all years from 2018-2021. Men in age group 15-24 had the highest death due to suicide (42.61%), followed by ages 5-14 (35.29%) and 25-34 (31.33%). The percentage for women was lower by 2.33% for ages 15-24, 1.96% for ages 5-14, and 6.66% for ages 25-34.

Koreans had the highest suicide rate for age group 5-34 out of all races.

Education-wise, Koreans had higher deaths due to suicide in all education groups than the average of all races. The highest difference is shown in the some college credit but no degree group, which has a percentage of 63.44%. The differences in suicide rates between Koreans and all races are more apparent in higher education groups. The highest difference is shown in people who have some college credit, and the difference starts to decrease as the education level gets higher.

In summary, suicide rates among Korean Americans showed a significant decline in 2020 despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. However, it remains a pressing public health issue, especially among Korean American youth, consistently ranking as the leading cause of death for ages 5-34.

It’s important to note that the absence of population data limits the ability to calculate rates per 100,000 people. Without knowing the population size for each demographic group, we cannot accurately determine the prevalence of suicides relative to the population. Therefore, interpretations should be made with caution, recognizing the need for comprehensive population data to provide a more accurate rate of suicides within specific demographics.