Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Bridgend Suicides

Via the badscience forums, interesting discussion of 'clustering' of suicides in the Bridgend area.

I saw a bunch of journalists defending their coverage yesterday, usual dissembling about how it is really the fault of everyone else, and how it is a real story because:
"Latest statistics available from the Office for National Statistics show that there were three suicides in 2004-2005 in the Bridgend area for those aged between 15 and 30, and three in 2006."
But according to the Guardian:
"The sad fact is that 16 suicides among young people in Bridgend in 12 months is no worse than usual. There were 13 suicides by young people in 2007, and 21 in total. In 2006 the total was 28."
It looks like the former figures come from:
"A briefing document prepared last month for Bridgend Local Health Board (LHB) by the National Public Health Service for Wales...“Three LHBs have rates of suicide among males aged 15-24 that exceed the Welsh average to a level considered statistically significant. These are Denbighshire, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend. Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot show the highest levels with an average of three cases of suicide among males of this age per year (1996-2006) in each area. They were lowest in Ceredigion with an average of one case per year.”"
So what is it, 3 for 15-30s in 2006, or 28? According to this:
"Four years ago, I began noticing a cluster of suicides of young males. It reached a peak in 2006 when 17 young people in the Bridgend constituency and four in Ogmore took their own lives - that makes a total of 21 in Bridgend. As the press has highlighted many times in recent weeks, a similar number of suicides occurred last year."
But looking at the national Public Health Service for Wales briefing document, we see that the 15-24 2004-2006 rate is 2 deaths/year.

I'm not sure what is going on here - anyone got any ideas? My first instinct was a difference in geographical areas as Philip Irwin in the Guardian suggests, but it doesn't seem to be that judging from the National Public Health Service figures. My next guess is that it depends on what you define as 'young', Irwin says "Men aged 16-35 are most at risk" and Bridgend's figures for 2004-2006 are an average of 16 over 15s a year, perhaps those missing 'young people' are in that 25-35 age bracket (a peak age group for suicide).


Political Scientist said...

Curiouser and curiouser...

I had a glance at the briefing document: I note it says that “The numbers of suicides in unitary authority areas in any particular year are small (typically around 2-6 cases).” But there are an average of 240 suicides in Wales: this suggests that there are about ~60 unitary authorities in Wales. So the statement that there are 2 deaths a year might be literally true in a specific unitary authority, but higher if we take into account that there might be several(?) unitary authorities in Bridgend. I think Brainduck said he's from that part of the world originally, so he might know.

Also, figure 7 shows the EASR for Bridgend is the highest for any district at a rate of 45 per 100000 per year for ages 15-24 (tho’ I think the graph accentuate this as it orders the districts from lowest to highest).

The Times claims:
“Seventeen people under the age of 27” have killed themselves in Bridgend “since January last year”

[source ]

And lists them – or, at least, 12 of them. I was surprised about this: what’s happened to the other five? The BBC gives an alternative list
but this lists 14 – still missing three. I wonder if the difference is explained by late reporting (as discussed in the briefing – they might be from 2006). Are these reasonable figures? 12 of the names are in the interval 15-24

The Census (2001) breakdown from Bridgend, in the form of a population pyramid, is here:

15 - 19 T:7678 M:3903 F:3775 20 - 24 T:6499 M:3458 F:3041 25 - 29 T:7866 M:3811 F:4055
(T,M, and F refer to total, male, and female)

This claims a total of the population of 128645: the Times description of Bridgend [County] as a town of 132000 is consistent with this.

Can you calculate the EASR from this? I am terminally rubbish at Stats, so I’ll leave it to professionals.

On a separate note:
I clicked on the Editors blog at the BBC:

which says

“The body of a 16-year-old girl was found in the Bridgend area of South Wales. She had apparently taken her own life, bringing to 21 the number of young apparent suicides in Bridgend county since September 2006.”

Look, it’s the amazing moving goal posts – I bet you could make it even higher if you chose September 2005. This appears to be exploiting the moving average to generate an apparent suicide “epidemic”

pj said...

The Bridgend figures are by 'Local Health Board' which is supposed to cover the County Borough of Bridgend - surely they can't be going outside the county to attribute deaths to Bridgend?!

We don't need to calculate the EASR since we have the raw figures from the NPHSW report which gives us 16 deaths/yr 2004-2006 in over 15s and 2/yr in 15-24s. Since the 1996-2006 figures show 3 deaths/yr 15-24 with an EASR of 44.6 which is significantly higher than the EASR of 19.3 for Wales we can only assume that (given the demographics can't have changed that much) that a rate of 11+ deaths in Bridgend in a year is extraordinarily high.

According to Channel 4:

"The most recent ONS data showed 20 suicides in the area in 2006, mostly among young men."

Now there could be problems with reporting as the NPHSW notes:

"In England and Wales in the case of suspected violent deaths registration can, in most cases, only take place after an inquest is held. A review of delays for suicides during 2001 suggested that fewer than half (41%) of suicide registrations were registered within three months, although 96% were registered within 12 months. Data is presented by year of registration; the cut-off for late registrations used by the Office for National Statistics is April the following year. Some cases may be registered in a year subsequent to the year they actually occur. Analyses below are by year of registration unless otherwise specified."

So 20 deaths in 2006 is consistent with a 2004-2006 rate of 16/yr - but the 2/yr rate in 15-24s is not consistent with the claim that these 20 suicides were "mostly among young men" unless there is something funny going on here where the definition of 'young' is playing an important role in the confusion.

Looking back at the Irwin and Moon quotes I see that Irwin is talking about suicides in 2007 in young people (which is the very suicides we're talking about) and then compares the total suicide rate between 2006 and 2007 and says it hasn't gone up. This of course doesn't answer whether the 15-24 suicide rate has gone up, which the evidence currently suggests it has (I'm not going in to questions of how many clusters of age specific rate increases we ought to expect around the country) and I can only assume that Moon's figures of 21 'young people' in 2006 are in people much older than the 2007/8 suicides.

So the take home message seems to be that there has been a sharp increase in the suicide rate in the 15-24 age group in Bridgend county, but this isn't translating into the overall suicide rate which suggests that it is just a statistical blip caused by slicing up the figures by age-group.

Political Scientist said...

"So the take home message seems to be that there has been a sharp increase in the suicide rate in the 15-24 age group in Bridgend county, but this isn't translating into the overall suicide rate which suggests that it is just a statistical blip caused by slicing up the figures by age-group."

...and I suppose, given that there are only ~7k people aged 15-19 in the area, it's not that surprising at least some of them knew each other. It is ever so sad tho'.

Fortunately, the media seem to have found other things to panic about.

Jay said...

Bridgend a small town in South Wales, ironically nicknamed the Big-End by many of its young inhabitants, has witnessed tragedy on an entirely cosmopolitan scale over the last twelve months.
In this case, the archetypal scapegoat role has been filed, with quite alarming and exponential pace, by youth orientated social networking sites - a claim that will surely jar with any ‘truly’ concerned altruist. Facebook, bebo, Myspace, operating as Heaven’s Gate’s new communicative medium, penetrating the psyche of the residents of a market town hidden away in the west of the United Kingdom, unknown to the majority of Britons – a tall tale at best and, at worst, an irresponsible attempt to explain a surreal state of affairs.
Some papers have, indeed, considered alternate reasons for this current spate of suicides, albeit whilst still ignoring the logical thought process.
Local paper the ‘Glamorgan Gazette’ took straw clutching to a truly abhorrent level, reporting on boffin’s theories proposing that electromagnetism is to blame with mobile phones and other various gadgets subconsciously influencing victims, pushing them to, quite literally, the very brink.
Many of us succumb to a common stereotype, viewing these ‘men of science’ as obsessive conspiracy theorists, spending their free time considering the most ludicrous of reasons for unexplainable coincidences and, whilst there is an undeniable nobility to any attempt to reveal why anyone would take their own life, you cannot help but feel that this theory came about from one X-files episode too many.
I myself am Bridgend born and bred, not a sense of immense personal pride nor, for that matter, shame or suicidal tendencies.
Having dealt with depression myself, I can officially reveal that the internalised sense of self despair and hopelessness was in no way linked with my geographical locale, it was ultimately, and unsurprisingly a convoluted and pessimistic self image.
I have recently found myself, once again slipping into the fog that is depression, yet I can reveal ‘exclusively’ that my home town of Bridgend, dreary though it may be, has not catalysed my state of mind one jot. Rather the problem lies with a lack of prospects, the intolerable grind of working in a call centre and the fear of never fulfilling my penultimate goal: validating my existence.
Suicidal thoughts go hand in hand with depression, thoughts which, I personally, can empathise with and have even harboured over the last few months, yet none of these thoughts have been encouraged by either my mobile phone, MP3 player or, now defunct, Facebook account, the only medium that, at this moment, appears truly capable of influencing the youth of Bridgend is the constant and unwavering coverage within the national media.
Lest we forget, the majority of youths crave the acceptance of their peers. Could it be possible that many of these unfortunate souls succumbed to metaphysical peer pressure, so desperate for acceptance , so exposed to the media that the course of action presented to them seemed logical?
I’am, despite what this article may lead you to believe, not anti-news or journalism, I believe strongly in the rights of a free press, its ability to inform, educate and encourage civic responsibility, yet recent events have led me to believe that the media should refrain from self-righteous finger pointing and, perhaps , engage in some analysis.

stevemac said...

Hi everyone, (Ooops edited - spelling error)

Regardless of reasons, any single suicide is a suicide too many,... at minimum it is a poor indicator of our values as individuals, our families and society as a whole. Each self-destructive act should be abhorred and every attempt made to try and prevent the conditions and emotional states that leads any individual to THINK of,... never mind attempt such an act, which devastates all of those around them,... and which can perpetuate the same `domino` effect to those not strong enough to resist such `urges`.
I have just finished translating a book on such a topic, which may give us an insite into this complex process and its CONSEQUENCES,... it requires proof reading in english, and may be found here: SUICIDE - EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW:!191