Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Both were successful, and both died last week after committing suicide.
While those two deaths made headlines nationally, the sad fact is that suicide is becoming a major issue in our country, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting that in 2016, it was the leading cause of death for Americans.
According to a new CDC report, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older took their own lives. The report indicates that suicide rates in the U.S. have increased nearly 30 percent since 1999.
The numbers in Utah are even more alarming. Since 1999, our state has seen an increase in suicides of 46.5 percent, the fourth-highest increase in the nation. Our neighbors in Idaho have seen a 43.2 percent increase; Wyoming, a 39 percent increase; Colorado, a 34.1 percent increase; New Mexico, an 18.3 percent increase; and Arizona, a 17.3 percent increase.
The three states with larger percentage increases in suicides than Utah are North Dakota, 57.6 percent; Vermont, 48.6 percent; and New Hampshire, 48.3 percent.
Nevada is the only state in the nation to see a decrease in suicide rates, with 1 percent fewer deaths by suicide from 1999 to 2016.
The numbers are more than alarming – they are a national health crisis, one the CDC admits the nation is behind in addressing. As Americans, we need to understand the problem, and work toward finding realistic ways to address it. Locally, all we have to do is look at the suicide deaths in our county jails to see a small sampling of a larger problem.
As to why suicide rates are up, the CDC report offered this: “During 1999–2016, suicide rates increased significantly in 44 states, and 25 states experienced increases (greater than) 30 percent. Rates increased significantly among males in 34 states, and females in 43 states. Additional research into the specific causes of these trends is needed.
“Suicidologists regularly state that suicide is not caused by a single factor; however, suicide prevention is often oriented toward mental health conditions alone with regard to downstream identification of suicidal persons, treatment of mental health conditions, and prevention of reattempts. This study found that approximately half of suicide decedents did not have a known mental health condition, indicating that additional focus on nonmental health factors further upstream could provide important information for a public health approach. Those without a known mental health condition suffered more from relationship problems and other life stressors such as criminal/legal matters, eviction/loss of home, and recent or impending crises.”
Unfortunately, there’s no clear data to show why more Americans are choosing to take their own lives. It’s easy to point to technology and the changes it brings to how we handle our everyday lives; it’s also easy to say that the nation has lost its way, with no clear moral compass. Both of those are assumptions, and until we have hard data, it won’t be clear as to why suicides deaths are spiking.
What can we do until we know more? First, take the time to talk with your friends and family, and maybe even go out of your way to accommodate a stranger. A random act of kindness may be just the thing someone needs to brighten their day.
Also, we need to be realistic with our loved ones who may be suffering from mental health issues. Long gone are the days when mental health issues are ignored; professional help is out there, and being depressed, for example, is something for which treatment may be needed. Don’t delay in getting someone you love help.
If you need help, there’s also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as a caller to our office reminded us last week: 800-273-8255.
This is an issue we need to address. As Americans, we all need to do our part in raising awareness. Someone’s life depends on it.