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STATES’ SPENDING FOR PUBLIC WELFARE AND THEIR SUICIDE RATES, 1960 TO 1995: WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

ZIMMERMAN, SHIRLEY L. Ph.D.1

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: June 2002 - Volume 190 - Issue 6 - p 349-360
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Drawing on Durkheim’s theory of social integration, this discussion reports on findings from a pooled time-series analysis of states’ spending for public welfare and their suicide rates, controlling for states’ divorce rates, population change rates, population density, unemployment rates, sex ratio, and racial composition. The analysis spans a 35-year period, 1960 to 1995, at six different data points: 1960, 1970, 1980, 1985, 1990, and 1995. The major hypothesis was that states’ suicide rates would increase with decreases in per capita spending for public welfare, controlling for the variables listed above in three different models and using OLS to analyze the data. In the basic model, states’ spending for public welfare showed no relationship to states’ suicide rates; in the second model that controlled for data year and in the third model that controlled for both data year and state, its relationship was significant, but in a negative direction. Suicide rates increased in states that reduced their per capita expenditures for public welfare during the observational period. Of all the variables, the influence of divorce on suicide was the most persistent and pronounced, followed by the percentage of whites in states’ populations. Whether the findings reflect an increase in the unendurable psychological pain associated with suicide, or the weakening of ties that bind individuals to each other and to the larger society (as measured by states’ divorce rates and per capita expenditures for public welfare), or the vulnerabilities associated with race, states can help counter suicide trends and such negative influences as divorce as evidenced by states that spend more for public welfare and have lower suicide rates. Given that clinicians work with people experiencing the unendurable psychological pain associated with suicide, the findings from these analyses have relevance for their practice.

1Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota. Reprint requests should be sent to: Dr. Zimmerman, 3843 Glenhurst Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416.

The author thanks Sanford Weisberg, Professor of Statistics at the University of Minnesota, for his help with the interpretation of the findings from the OLS analysis.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.