WVU Professor Pens Article in “Injury Prevention”
International journal includes article on suicide research

More suicides could be prevented if U.S. death certificates were more accurate and complete, according to a West Virginia University School of Medicine professor. In this month’s edition of the medical journal “Injury Prevention,” Ian Rockett, Ph.D., WVU Department of Community Medicine professor and associate chair, said data on suicides is incomplete, making the task of assessing suicide risk factors more difficult.    

Rockett and colleagues researched death certificates of more than 150,000 American males and females who committed suicide during a five-year span.  Their national study, a first of its kind in the U.S., reveals that death certificates may be grossly deficient when it comes to recording mental and physical conditions that are associated with suicide, such as depression and cancer. 

“We are interested in whether people who committed suicide had physical or mental conditions that might help explain their deaths,” Rockett said.  “If they did, such medical conditions should be included on their death certificates.”

Female suicides were found to have more physical and mental disorders listed on their death certificates than male counterparts.  Rockett and his colleagues speculate that this is because women have more interaction with the healthcare system than men; therefore women’s medical histories tend to be more complete.

“High quality information on suicide is crucial for identifying high risk groups, designing effective interventions, and thus preventing this serious public health problem,” Rockett said.

Rockett’s research is similar to a recent Australian study.  According to Rockett, the U.S. and Australia have the same suicide rate; however, in instances of suicide, comorbid or accompanying medical conditions appear much more frequently on Australian death certificates than on U.S. death certificates.  Rockett believes this is an indication that death certificates in the U.S. may lack important information. 

Rockett plans to continue his research to examine comorbidity among suicides, distinguishing race and ethnic background as well as age and gender.  He also plans to consider the characteristics of places where people who are considered high risk for suicide live as well as their personal characteristics.

Rockett received his master of public health degree in epidemiology from Harvard University and his doctorate in demography and medical sociology from Brown University.  His research interests include injury, substance abuse and suicide misclassification.  He has published numerous articles and reports on these topics.

“Injury Prevention” is part of BMJ Publishing Group, a subsidiary of the British Medical Association.

- WVU -

For more information:
Emily Corio, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
ec: 10-22-07

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