Kate Spade took her life on Tuesday, then Anthony Bourdain was found dead from suicide on Friday. As we mourn the loss of these successful Americans who ended their own lives –all within the same week, new government data shows that Americans are taking their life at high rates in nearly every state.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released new state-by-state data on suicides in the U.S. and the news is not good. Not only have rates risen over the past almost two decades in nearly every state, but suicide increased among all sexes, ages, races and ethnic groups.
Take a look at these startling facts about suicide in our country:
- 45K – Nearly 45,000 lives lost to suicide in 2016. Around 16 out of every 100,000 Americans will take their lives.
- 30% – Suicide rates went up more than 30% in half of the states since 1999
- 54% – More than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition
- 1% – Nevada was the only state in which suicide rates did not rise (but fell) over the period studied.
- 57.6% – Percentage of highest suicide rate increase and that was in North Dakota.
The big question is why?
There is no single cause of suicide – not even mental illness. While we focus on the mental health of people who take their lives, the CDC found that over half of suicides had no known mental illness.
The BBC asked experts who work on this issue to explain:
Dr Jerry Reed of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention told the BBC says that while there is "definitely a relationship between serious mental illness and suicidal behaviour", experts have found it is not just a mental health challenge.
"Economic conditions or livelihood opportunities in decline could lead people to positions where they're at risk. We need to intervene in both mental and public health cases," Dr Reed says.
Prof Julie Cerel, president of the American Association of Suicidology, noted that having better reporting standards could account for some of the increase, but also pointed to a lack of adequate funding for mental health research and preventative care.
"Our mental health systems are just really struggling across the country," Prof Cerel says. "In terms of training mental health professionals, we're not doing a great job."
The recent high-profile suicides and this new data underscore that many Americans are not alright but are struggling to cope with the challenges of life.
Several of the contributing factors are related to economic well-being, which means it's not just important for the overall economy to be strong, but regular Americans need to experience the prosperity of our economy. Employment and good pay allow a person to supply their own housing, pay bills, and hopefully afford healthcare. It's critical that policymakers also pass policies that help Americans to be independent, but get help when needed. We must tackle rising healthcare costs as well.
As a society, we have grown to take seriously the directive "if you see something, say something" as it pertains to reporting suspicious packages on public transit or behavior at airports. Maybe it's time to adopt that directive for loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, and friends too.
For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide, please get help!