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Study to examine link between economy, alcohol and suicide
Author: John Kirkland, University Communications
Posted: September 19, 2013

What role has the combination of alcohol use and the Great Recession had in suicide rates in the United States?

Mark Kaplan, a professor of community health at Portland State University, has been awarded a nearly $1 million grant to find out. 

Starting this month, Kaplan and his colleagues from Oregon Health & Science University and other North American institutions will examine the records of 84,000 suicides occurring in 18 states from 2003 to 2011.  The date range will enable them to see if the rate of suicide changed with the onset of the recession starting in the last quarter of 2007.

About three quarters of the data records also have toxicology information, so researchers also will be able to see how big a role alcohol played in those suicides.

“Economic stress such as unemployment and home foreclosures can put people at a higher risk for suicide. Alcohol can be the missing link between contemplating suicide and actually carrying it out,” Kaplan said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to help prevent suicides by broadening the awareness of their causes.

The study is being funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The $950,530 award comes at a time when the NIH budget been cut by 10 percent due to the federal budged sequestration and the agency is awarding grants to an increasingly small sliver of applicants. Kaplan said the fact that it funded the suicide study despite budget cuts is an indication of its importance.

The study is expected to take three years, although Kaplan said he expects his team to publish preliminary findings in as little as six months.