The recent suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and food writer and travelogue host Anthony Bourdain drew attention, once more, to the sorrow that descends upon tens of thousands of American families each year. Unfortunately, a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that such tragedies are occurring with increasing frequency.
The report, released the week that Spade and Bourdain died, shows the nation’s suicide rate rose 25 percent between 1999 and 2016, with 25 states seeing increases of more than 30 percent. California’s rate was slightly below the national average but still rose about 15 percent during those years.
Suicides are now the 10th highest cause of death in the nation and one of three causes on the rise, along with Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2016.
Nearly 45,000 Americans die each year by their own hands, or about 123 per day. That’s more than double the number of people who are murdered, a jarring statistic considering how much more attention is given to homicides in movies, TV dramas and news reports.
Mental health experts say America needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. Only one state, Nevada, saw a decline in the suicide rate during the years studied, according to the CDC. Officials attribute the improvement to strengthening work with community groups, particularly in isolated areas.
Access to mental health care is critical, a fact that officials in Sonoma County must remember as they weigh drastic cuts in services to offset funding problems resulting from budget mismanagement.
Access also must be preserved nationally. Even as the Trump administration seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, protections for coverage of mental health treatment and pre-existing illnesses are needed.
Firearms are involved in more than half of all suicides, but less so in states with stricter gun safety laws. Indiana and Connecticut both saw significant drops in firearm suicides in the past decade after enabling police officers to seize guns from people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others. States should follow California’s model red-flag laws, as they’re known, as components of rational gun regulation. Meanwhile, all gun owners can take the commonsense steps of securing firearms in their homes.
CDC researchers stressed that there are multiple factors in a person’s decision to take his or her life. “Our data suggests suicide is more than a mental health issue,” said Deborah Stone, the lead author of the study. More than half of people who kill themselves didn’t have a known mental health diagnosis, according to the CDC’s analysis.
Suicides often occur following breakups in a relationship, substance abuse, financial problems, evictions, legal troubles and physical health problems. CDC researchers suggest that prevention strategies include strengthening housing policies and other economic supports and teaching more problem-solving skills to children and adults to help them better cope with life’s setbacks.
Encouraging social connections, which foster a sense of hope and caring, is likewise important, they said. Checking in on friends, family members and neighbors during a time of crisis also can make a profound difference.
The North Bay Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-855-587-6373 — and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — are available for people who need assistance, for themselves or for others.