A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that suicide rates increased in nearly every state in the United States between 1999 and 2016. It’s a significant rise, one that left many health practitioners and citizens asking “Why?”
Joining us today on “Take Care” is one of the authors of the study. Dr. Alex Crosby is Surveillance Branch chief in the Division of Violence Prevention. Crosby’s work includes research and assistance in the prevention of self-directed violence in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC.
One of the motivations behind the study was the knowledge that there was a rise in suicide, but the research team wanted to know how that rise could be different state to state.
“When we looked at state-by-state rates … you could identify 44 states in which the suicide rates had gone up what we call statistically significant,” Crosby said.
They looked at death certificate information state-by-state, but Crosby admits these records don’t tell you much about underlying factors. Their second data source, the National Violent Death Reporting System, did reveal some of the circumstances associated with the deaths.
“We couldn’t answer specifically exactly what was behind the increases,” said Crosby. “What we could do is, based on other research, identify some of the factors that have been connected to suicides in the past.”
Some of the factors that could account for the rise, Crosby said, include the economy and substance abuse (especially opioid-related). While these factors could affect the rate of suicide, suicide is a complicated issue.
“There’s not really one thing that puts a person at risk or causes a person to engage in suicidal behavior, so it was probably a combination of different factors that played a roll,” Crosby said.
This view, the ability to look at suicide rates state-by-state, is new territory. As researchers looked at the data, they found that relationship issues, not mental health issues, were the biggest factor that lead to suicidal behavior. Whether or not the right issues were identified is unknown, but Crosby said this discovery again paints the picture that suicide often results from multiple factors.
Other findings from the study:
- The suicide rate is increasing overall, but is also increasing slightly faster among women
- The population where suicide rates are increasing the fastest is working-age adults (particularly 30s, 40s, 50s, early 60s)
One of the things researchers at the CDC are now looking into is which evidence-based programs are successful when it comes to suicide prevention.
“There are some states that are doing much more coordinated kind of activities to try to address suicide rates,” Crosby said. “Were working with several states to try to develop a focused, coordinated, community-based approach to suicide prevention in which it looks at some of those risk groups.”