A timely report was released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Thursday showing that the rate of suicides has increased by 30% since 1999. In the CDC Vital Signs report, a monthly report released to cover an important health threat, some alarming statistics about suicide come to light. 45,000 lives aged 10 or older were lost to suicide in 2016 and 54% of those who died from suicide deaths did not have a known mental health condition.

This week has been a tough one for deaths of well-known public figures to suicide. Handbag and fashion icon Kate Spade, age 55, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, age 61, were both reported dead this week. Both hung themselves but suicide by firearm is the most common way. Suicide is one of three causes of death on the rise and is the 10th leading cause of death. There is no single cause to point a finger at and blame as the reason for this final act.

Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor. Although suicide prevention efforts largely focus on identifying and providing treatment for people with mental health conditions, there are many additional opportunities for prevention.

“Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”

Researchers found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide. Firearms were the most common method of suicide used by those with and without a known diagnosed mental health condition.

There is an interesting breakdown of each state included in the report. According to the CDC report, western states are hit the hardest, except California. Nevada shows a decrease.

The most recent overall suicide rates (2014-2016) varied four-fold; from 6.9 per 100,000 residents per year in Washington, D.C. to 29.2 per 100,000 residents in Montana.

Across the study period, rates increased in nearly all states. Percentage increases in suicide rates ranged from just under 6 percent in Delaware to over 57 percent in North Dakota. Twenty-five states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 percent.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director, stressed that suicide is a national issue and no one community is immune.

“We do see increases in suicide associated with economic downturns, and it can take a long time for the recovery to kick in,” Schuchat said. “We can see suicide rates improve slower than the economy.”

“We saw higher increases among middle-aged people, but we did see increases in younger people and older people – essentially every age group other than those over age 75 saw increasing rates of suicide during this time period,” Schuchat said.

In 2017 the CDC released a technical package on suicide prevention. There are also suggestions to the media on reporting about suicides.

  • Following and sharing recommendations available at reportingonsuicide.org (for example, avoiding dramatic headlines or explicit details on suicide methods);
  • Providing information on suicide warning signs and suicide prevention resources; and
  • Sharing stories of hope and healing.

On a personal note, I have to say I agree with most of the findings presented by the CDC and I especially agree with the recommendations about reporting on suicides. I lost my own father to suicide when I was 19 years old. It isn’t something I have ever written about but I may one day. I have been particularly disturbed by the reporting frenzy in the media about Kate Spade’s tragic death by suicide. The headlines and the number of details are devastating to read. I know her daughter’s life is changed forever and the explicit details being reported as fact are above and beyond what should be out there for the public to read, let alone her young daughter. The fact is, no one can know for certain what causes anyone to carry out the decision to commit suicide.

The cases of the well-known public figures spotlight that there are regular, everyday people in all of our lives who may be troubled and quietly battling a mental health condition. I’ll end with a national toll-free number for anyone seeking help.

1-800-273-TALK (8255)