Suicide is now a national priority, announced the U.S. on Monday, marking World Suicide Day with the release of a revised, national-scale suicide prevention plan.
Statistics show that South Los Angeles has the lowest suicide rate in the county: 3.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2009, the latest year for which statistics were available. The next lowest was the San Gabriel Valley region, which had a rate of 6.7.
But the southside is also one of the poorest areas overall in the county. The Los Angeles Times Mapping L.A. project shows that around 41 percent of households – that's more than 86,000 families – make less than $20,000 annually.
James Cunningham, the head of Mental Health Clinical Program in the county's Department of Mental Health, says that's consistent with what he's found.
He wrote in an email that, in L.A. County, "you will find that rates of suicide are related to socioeconomic status, that is to say that low-income populations generally have lower suicide rates." The converse is also true, Cunningham added: Communities with higher socioeconomic status see higher rates of suicide.
But Sandri Kramer, the crisis line director at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center, doesn't necessarily agree.
"There is not a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and suicide," she said. "I wouldn't necessarily even say that you would see more [suicide] in people with low socioeconomic status. That might be true at times; I don't think it's necessarily a trend."
Kramer said "reduced access to [health] care can definitely be a barrier," in part because it means that people will be less likely to seek help. That's certainly a factor in South L.A. But there are what she calls "protective factors."
"Things like religion, things like community support," she said. "If you have tight-knit communities where there's just a lot of interaction and, therefore, social isolation is reduced, that can actually benefit a person, even if they don't have the same financial means as other people to get the help they need."
Exposure to violence can also increase a person's risk – gang violence, for example. "There is a thought that exposure to violence could desensitize people in terms of turning violence onto themselves," explained Kramer. South Los Angeles' Newton Division of the LAPD has nearly 60 gangs within its nine-square-mile radius.
But Kramer is careful to underscore that suicide "is a very complicated issue," adding that there's rarely a "straightforward answer" or clear-cut trend when it comes to the issue.
"We don't exactly know which risk factor creates more concerns versus another," she said. "And because many types of behaviors don't necessarily imply that a person is thinking about killing themselves, it's even more important to destigmatize [suicide] and simply talk about – and simply recognize that is the best way we have of preventing it."
Kramer added that "suicide doesn't discriminate," no matter who a person is or how much money he or she has – or doesn't have – and that there is free and confidential help available.
One group the nation's revised suicide prevention strategy is paying special attention to is military personnel.
Gramercy Park and Manchester Square are neighborhoods with notably high veteran populations. More than 13 percent of Gramercy Park's population is comprised of vets; the same is true for nearly 11 percent of Manchester Square's residents. Both percentages are high relative to the rest of the county.
Photo by Lloyd Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons.