The number of Americans who die by suicide has been steadily increasing across the country for nearly two decades, prompting concerns about how we're addressing the topic from a public health perspective.

Could increasing minimum wage help reduce the suicide rate?

» RELATED: Suicide prevention and care resources in metro Atlanta

In the agency’s 2018 report, researchers found suicide deaths could be traced back to circumstances involving relationships, substance abuse, health issues, access to lethal means (like firearms) and job or financial troubles.

To further examine the role of financial anxiety in America’s rising suicide rate, scientists with the University of North Carolina’s GIllings School of Global Public Health have been looking at the impact of wage changes

» RELATED: CDC: Suicide rate up 16 percent in Georgia

For the new study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, UNC researchers conducted a retrospective panel study using data on state minimum wages and suicide rates for all 50 states between 2006 and 2016.

They ultimately found that increases in state minimum wages in recent years have been associated with decreases in suicide rates.

“With 432,000 reported deaths by suicide in the time period, the team found that a one-dollar increase in the real minimum wage was associated on average with a 1.9 percent decrease in the annual state suicide rate, or nearly 8,000 fewer deaths by suicide,” according to a university article on the research. “This association was most consistent in the years from 2011 on.”

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Alex Gertner, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Gillings, believes the study reveals the important role of policymakers in reversing recent increases in suicide deaths. 

“U.S. workers’ real wages have barely increased in decades, and they enjoy fewer labor protections than workers in other wealthy countries,” he said in a statement to the university. “Most of health is determined by social conditions, rather than use of healthcare services. Policies that improve financial security may have a key role to play in reversing worsening trends in suicides in the U.S.”

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While this is the first study the authors believe examines the effect of minimum wage changes on suicide rates, previous research, from the CDC and from the National Institutes of Health, has noted that individuals with significant debt are generally more likely to report physical health challenges. And nearly 30 percent of suicides, according to the CDC’s most recent National Vital Statistics Reports analysis, occur in response to a crisis within the past two weeks. Sixteen percent occur in response to a financial problem.

Read the full UNC study at ajpmonline.org.

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If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text the 24-hour hotline at 800-273-8255. For more information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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