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Friday
Jun082018

S.C. Suicide Rate Up 38-56 Percent Since 1999

The suicide deaths of chef, author, and TV host Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade this week are stories of lives cut short for reasons we’ll never fully understand. But these anecdotes are also a reminder of a serious public health issue in America that needs far more attention. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released on June 7, suicide rates have increased significantly across the US. Between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates rose in nearly every state in the union, with 25 states showing increases of more than 30 percent. 

South Carolina posted a increase in the rate of suicides between 38-56 percent during that time.

The central and northern parts of the US — North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota — saw some of the greatest rises in suicide rates. 

Percentage change in annual suicide rate, by state. United States between 1999 to 2001 and 2014 to 2016. CDC

In North Dakota, for example, the suicide death rate increased by nearly 60 percent since 1999. Nevada was the one state that saw no increase — but the rate there remained “consistently high throughout the study period.” The suicide rate in Nevada is currently 21 per 100,000 deaths, greater than the national average of 13 deaths per 100,000. (You can see other state-specific rates here.) 

In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide — making it the 10th most common cause of death in the US, and one of only three leading causes that are increasing, according to the CDC. 

One of the most disturbing aspects of the report: More than half of the people who died by suicide had no known mental health problems. Instead, the CDC said, “Relationship, substance use, health, and job or financial problems are among the other circumstances contributing to suicide.” Also disturbing: 48 percent of the suicides occurred by firearms — another reminder that while the homicides in America’s gun crisis get a lot of public attention, suicides by gun are far more common. 

“At what point is it a crisis?” Nadine Kaslow, a past president of the American Psychological Association, asked the Washington Post. “Suicide is a public health crisis when you look at the numbers, and they keep going up. It’s up everywhere. And we know that the rates are actually higher than what’s reported. But homicides still get more attention.”

The majority of the suicide deaths not linked to mental health problems involved midlife white males 

The vast majority of suicides that weren’t linked to a known mental health problem in the CDC study involved middle-aged white males — yet another reflection of a growing tragedy in the US. 

Life expectancy keeps dropping in the US, and researchers have explained the decline, in part, by an increase in “deaths of despair”: suicides, alcoholism, and drug overdoses, particularly from opioid painkillers, are a rising problem for midlife white people. 

“Suicidologists regularly state that suicide is not caused by a single factor,” the CDC said. And as this new report clearly shows, the causes of suicide are much broader than just mental health conditions. We need suicide prevention policies and strategies that reflect that.

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