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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
The risk of suicide declines slightly when the number of psychiatrists in the area increases. Unfortunately, that risk skyrockets when another type of professional—namely, the divorce lawyer—multiplies. Such are the findings reported by researcher Augustine J. Kposowa, who analyzed county-by-county data for the United States for 1990 through 1995.
Kposowa adduces evidence that the availability of psychiatrists helps at least a few Americans. “Psychiatrist availability,” he writes, “was significantly and negatively associated with suicide.” More specifically, multivariate analysis reveals that “for every increase in psychiatrists per 10,000 [county residents] the expected reduction in county suicide rate was 0.12%.” Though this finding crosses the threshold of statistical significance, Kposowa recognizes that “the association was small.”
On the other hand, Kposowa finds that “divorce was strongly related to suicide [p<0.01]. For every percentage increase in the percentage of divorced women [in the county], the county suicide rate increased by 7.5%.” Not surprisingly, the analysis singles out “divorce . . . [as] one of the strongest predictors of county suicide rates.” Kposowa interprets this finding as an outcome that is “in line with Durkheim’s theory of social integration.” “Divorce,” he remarks, “is a mechanism that breaks the ties that bind individuals to society. . . . Accordingly, communities wracked by high divorce rates also tend to have high suicide rates due to weakened regulation and integration.”
(Augustine J. Kposowa, “Psychiatrist Availability, Social Disintegration, and Suicide Deaths in U.S. Counties, 1990–1995,” Journal of Community Psychology 37.1 : 73–87, emphasis added.)