OK, a little help please.
TAPPED was nice enough to link to my latest irritated screed at the media’s poor coverage of military suicide rates.
Once the statistic’s initial shock value wears off, it’s clear that–as Winds of Change notes in its calculations–the figure is fairly misleading. Taking the national rate of suicide (about 13 per 100,000) and applying it to the 1.6 million U.S. troops that have to date served, the figure comes out to 8,409 — a little less than twice the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq. More an artifact of the comparatively low casualties the U.S. has suffered in Iraq than anything else.
They then go on:
The more compelling statistic is the one revealed in an independent CBS analysis last November, namely that veterans aged 20-24 (that is, those who’ve served in current wars) have a suicide rate up to four times higher than civilians the same age.
So we go over to the CBS analysis:
So CBS News did an investigation – asking all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records, for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. Forty-five states sent what turned out to be a mountain of information.
And what it revealed was stunning.
In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. Thatâ€™s 120 each and every week, in just one year.
Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.
It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)
One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)
OK, I’m pretty deeply puzzled here.
Back when I did my first post on suicide, here’s what I found:
So in 2004, there were a total of 14,328 suicides in the US in the age group 20 – 44 (the group that I think pretty well covers the population in Iraq – some are younger, some are older). the total population in 2004 in that age group was 104,259,000 – so the rate/100,000 population was 15.25.
And since the rate in the military is higher – significantly higher at 17.3/100,000 overall and 19.9 for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – I was darn concerned.
And then I asked one more question.
Well, the suicide rates by sex are pretty different, I recalled. I wonder what happens if I sex-norm the suicide rates in the military?
Here’s an approximation (because the of women in reserves is slightly higher, and I didn’t find the serving in Iraq).
According to the DoD, approximately 17% of US active-duty forces are women.
According to the CDC, the 20 – 44 population had 14,328 suicides in 2004. Of those, 11,460 were men, and 2,868 were women. The census gives an estimate for 2005 population from 20 – 44 as 52,513,000 men and 51,746,000 women.
By my math, this gives a suicide rate of 21.82/100,000 for men, and 5.54/100,000 for women.
If I norm the suicide rates by multiplying the sexes rate by the population in the military, I get (21.82*83%)+(5.54*17%)=19.06/100,000.
So let’s go to the CDC data, and see what the numbers for ages 20 – 24 look like.
They show 2,599 suicides in that age range in 2004. There are, per the census, 21.05 million Americans that age; that gives a raw rate of 12.35/100,000.
Note the article states that the rate is 8.9. OK, I’m puzzled – how the heck did he get that?
Now let’s take a moment and sex-norm the rate, as I did in the original post.
Per the census, the 20 – 24 age group has 10.86 million males, and 10.20 million females. The suicide number for males in this group was 2,105; the rate was this 20.22/100,000. For females, there were 404 suicides, for a rate of 3.96/100,000.
Assuming the same ratio of males/females in the military (which is for the Army, and hence somewhat high), we have 83% male, 17% female. So sex-norming the rations, we’d get 83% * 20.22 + 17% * 3.96 for a total rate of 17.46/100,000.
The actual rate, per Rathburn, is between 22.9 and 31.9/100,000. Now I’m not sure how he got such a huge variance, but I’ll also suggest that the number of veterans between 20 and 24 is pretty small. The VA says there are 287,400 veterans in that age group. This would suggest that there were between 66 and 92 suicides in 2005 in this group.
Let’s look at the overall population. There were a total of 24.5 million vets as of 2005, and the CBS study shows 6,256 suicides in 2005, for a rate of 25.51/100,000. Assuming a sex-normed overall population, the rate (using the 83%/17% ratio, which is high, but close enough) would be 15.5/100,000. So – looks like the rate is significantly higher – which means there is some damn serious work to do.
But – I’m seriously puzzled about where the doc got his statistics. I’ll look for an email for him and ask him directly. Meanwhile, here are my sources:
I’m open to sources. I know he’s a professor of epidemiology, and I’m some guy with Excel and a web browser. But his numbers make no sense to me.
Note: my son is in the military, and I’m darn concerned about his well-being. But I want to have a fact-based discussion; I don’t think vaguely-sourced or wrong numbers make for good discussion.