"We're going in the wrong direction": America is facing a suicide epidemic

A sobering new study finds the rate of death by suicide increased 24 percent from 1999 to 2014

Published April 24, 2016 11:00AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet The rate of death by suicide in America increased by 24 percent from 1999 through 2014, according to a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The report breaks down suicide by age groups and gender, showing an increase among all groups, said Sally Curtin, one of the report's authors. This increase has been steady since 1999, after a consistent decline since 1986, she said.

In 1999, 10.5 of every 100,000 people committed suicide. In 2014, that number increased to 24 percent, or 13 out of every 100,000 people. In the 80’s, however, the suicide rate had been dropping. The most eye-catching increases were among middle-aged people.

In 2014, there were 42,773 deaths by suicide in the United States, making it the 10th leading cause of death. That’s more than twice as many people as have died from Parkinson’s disease or by homicide.

Suicide deaths are identified with codes U03, X60–X84, and Y87.0 from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision. (graph: CDC)

“It’s very sobering and disappointing,” said Harold Koplewicz, a psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit in Manhattan. “We’re not making progress. We’re actually going in the wrong direction.”

“It’s a very important report, and the results are very striking,” said Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, a mental health nonprofit based in New York. “The rate has increased so much since 1999, especially during the second half of that period.” The main people at risk of dying from suicide are those with psychiatric conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, points Borenstein.

But the issue is not just a mental health problem. “Many people view suicide as a mental health problem, but many people who die of suicide do not have a mental health problem. It’s a public health problem,” said Kristin Holland, a behavioral scientist at the Center for Disease Control. According to Holland, the late 2000s economic recession and the increase of substance abuse are some of the leading factors leading more suicide cases.

The report reflects an higher increase among females (45 percent increase) vs. males (16 percent increase), narrowing the suicide rate gap. Nevertheless as of 2014, the suicide rate continues to be three times higher in males than in females.

The report also reflects suicide methodology. In 2014, men used firearms more frequently, while women chose poisoning. The report also states that for women, the highest percent increase in suicide rates was among those ages 10–14 (200 percent increase), while for men it was 45–64 (43 percent increase).

“We do not have enough resources directed at suicide prevention, especially compared to funding behind other leading causes of death,” Holland said.

“If this was a finding of some other problem that results in death, it would be on the front page of every newspaper. People would be pressuring the politicians to come up with solutions,” said Borenstein. “Hopefully this [report] would be a wake up call and a call to action on the part of our country.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

By Marlena Fitzpatrick García

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