|When Christian Marfels learned about a handful of studies linking gambling and suicide he spent several weeks researching in Nevada. The gambling state is the suicide capital of America.|
However, the professor of economics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, came to a different conclusion than those he had heard about.
The vast majority of suicides in Clark County, Nevada do not involve gambling, Marfels said during a visit to Las Vegas last week. Instead, Marfels found, most suicides are attributable to depression and other mental illnesses, broken relationships and substance abuse.
'In some cases, gambling plays a role,' Marfels said. 'But we have to recognize these other factors.'
But Clark County Coroner Ron Flud said, as far as he knows, Marfels' study is the first on suicide and gambling in which a researcher has actually contacted him. 'He's the only one I know of who has ever done any research on suicide in the county that is fact-based,' Flud said. 'The others have never actually talked to us.'
Local mental health officials also agree with the professor. They say a crucial first step in addressing the problem is acknowledging that psychiatric illnesses such as depression are the primary cause of Clark County's large number of suicides.
'Gambling is a very small percentage of the reason why people make suicide attempts or consider it in Las Vegas,' said Ron Lawrence, director of the Community Counseling Center, near the intersection of Sahara Avenue and Maryland Parkway. 'It's primarily mental illness and other mental health issues.'
Last year, an all-time high of 292 people killed themselves in Clark County. Nearly 88 percent of those were local residents.
Marfels spent several weeks at the Clark County coroner's office examining the case files of hundreds of suicides with the help of coroner's office assistants. He broke his study down into two categories: visitor and resident suicides.
For visitor suicides, he reviewed all 249 adult case files for the period of 1990 to 1997. Of those cases, a cause could be determined in 163.
The figures broke down as follows:
25 percent were attributable primarily to psychiatric illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.
20 percent were the result of relationship problems.
15 percent were tied to alcohol and drug abuse.
15 percent were attributable to health problems.
10 percent were attributable to an individual's criminal problems, such as an arrest or prior criminal history.
6 percent were because of gambling.
9 percent were categorized as 'other.'
With regard to local suicides, the number of self-inflicted adult deaths for a similar time period was 2,123. This was too large a number to allow for an individual review of each case. So, Marfels took a random sample of 10 percent of those suicides and came up with the following figures.
32 percent were attributable to psychiatric illnesses.
21 percent were attributable to relationship problems.
21 percent were because of health problems.
12 percent were blamed on alcohol and drug abuse.
6 percent were blamed on criminal problems.
3 percent were blamed on gambling.
5 percent were categorized as 'other.'
Under the sample, those percentage figures could fluctuate by a couple of percentage points, Marfels said.
Marfels said it was difficult to find more than a handful of cases in which a person killed themselves solely because of a gambling problem. Instead, he said, most suicides were the culmination of a multitude of factors.
Marfels also said it is important to note that he is not trying to diminish what can be the tragic effects of problem gambling. He said, in some cases, gambling is an indisputable cause of suicide in Clark County.
'One suicide is one too many,' Marfels said.