Suicides rose through economic recovery, especially in rural areas

Art from the exhibit “SOS: Signs of Suicide” (Photo courtesy of Terry Hitt TEJAS Gallery)

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Art from the exhibit “SOS: Signs of Suicide” (Photo courtesy of Terry Hitt TEJAS Gallery)

A disturbing new report on suicide in the U.S. raises serious questions about despair and resources among rural residents, white men and in the population generally.

The report, by the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simply looked at the number of suicides over 15 years, in different places among different demographic groups.

They all kept rising.

As one might expect, the rate of suicides jumped following the Great Recession that started in December 2007. But then the economic recovery began, starting in June 2009. And suicides rose again. And when the recovery really took hold, suicides continued to rise.

From 2001 to 2015, the overall suicide rate for people over 10 years old rose from 12.54 suicides per 100,000 to 14.98 suicides per 100,000. The latest rate for rural men was 28.54 suicides per 100,000 people.

The rates were worst in rural counties of the U.S. But they were bad everywhere, especially for white men. The hardest-hit group was Native Americans in rural areas. In urban areas Native Americans were less at risk.

Although the report cites economic factors and access to health care as generally contributing factors to suicide, it does not come to direct conclusions about what caused these suicides.

But the findings will be no surprise to many researchers who followed the details of the recovery. While the economic recovery has been good for the richest 1 percent of the population and the finance industry has surged, others have not been so lucky. Average households are just now dragging themselves back to the income levels they were at more than a decade ago.

Employment levels are back up, but the jobs for average people aren't paying as well. And other studies have pointed to how despair can hurt people's health.

Materials provided along with the CDC report make suggestions to deal with this as a public health problem. They include:

  • Strengthen household financial security
  • Stabilize housing: reduce foreclosures and abandoned housing
  • Increase access to mental health care
  • Reduce access to lethal means among populations at risk of suicide
  • Encourage a help-seeking culture

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