Suicide rates have shot up in almost every U.S. state

More than half of victims counted in 27 states in 2015 had no known mental health condition

suicide prevention event

SUICIDE AWARENESS  At a suicide prevention event at a Washington state high school, participants select beads signifying how suicide has affected their lives. Suicide rates have gone up sharply across the country since 1999, according to a new report.

Greg Lehman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via AP

Suicide rates have increased across the United States — and in dozens of states by more than 30 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based on public health data from 1999 to 2016.

Among suicide victims counted in 2015 in 27 states, 54 percent had no known mental health condition, researchers say in the June 8 report. For those who died, circumstances surrounding their suicide included relationship or job problems, the loss of a home, legal troubles and physical health issues. These factors played a role whether suicide victims had a diagnosed medical condition or not. 

With suicide, “there’s no one cause. It’s a confluence of contributors at a particular stress point in time,” says clinical psychologist Jill Harkavy-Friedman, the vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York City. “It’s very important to know that it’s not just mental illness; it’s many factors.”

Overall, close to 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016. Suicide is one of three top causes of death on the rise in the country, and has contributed to a drop in U.S. life expectancy (SN Online: 12/21/07).

By state or jurisdiction, the rates of suicide in the most recent period studied (2014 to 2016) ranged from 6.9 per 100,000 people in the District of Columbia to 29.2 per 100,000 for Montana.

“Suicide is a public health problem that can be prevented,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in a news conference on June 7. “That’s why it’s so important to understand the range of factors and circumstances that contribute to suicide risk.”

Starting that prevention early by teaching elementary school kids problem-solving and coping skills and how to take care of their mental and physical health is key, Harkavy-Friedman says.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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