CDC: Suicides are on the increase in half of US states

“The pressures on middle-class and low-income families are considerable,” says a doctor.

Los Angeles Times

More than a decade of steadily rising rates have made suicide the nation’s 10th leading cause of death and one of only three causes of death — including Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses — that are increasing in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a report that examines trends in suicide at the state level from 1999 to 2016, the CDC says suicide rates have increased in nearly every state. In half the states, the agency found the rate rose more than 30 percent.

In releasing the report CDC officials noted that more than half of those who died by suicide — 54 percent — did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition.

A new study on suicide trends in 27 states found that many victims acted after relationship problems or loss; substance misuse; physical health problems; or job, money, legal or housing stress.

“Our data suggests suicide is more than a mental health issue,” said Deborah Stone, lead author of that study.

Noting that suicide is “very rare” among those with chronic depression, Stone said friends, families and co-workers should not overlook the risk of self-harm among people who have never been diagnosed with mental illness.

On Thursday, public health officials urged people with suicidal thoughts to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

They also said Americans should learn the warning signs of suicide so they can recognize those at risk.

Among the agency’s recommendations: Reduce a high-risk person’s access to lethal items such as medications and firearms.

Dr. Steven Woolf, a Virginia Commonwealth University physician who has studied suicide in the U.S., said the trend of rising self-harm is now well-established.

“We really have to focus on what’s going on in people’s lives that’s driving so many to such desperate acts,” said Woolf, who chronicled what has become known as America’s “epidemic of despair” — rising death rates due to drug overdoses, suicide and diseases related to substance abuse — in a recent essay in the journal BMJ.

Woolf said scant access to mental health care has driven down diagnoses even as it allows despair to fester.

“But our research shows something more alarming — these increases are occurring in places that have been struggling for many years: places where incomes have been stagnant and poverty rates have been high. The pressures on middle-class and low-income families are considerable … and it’s taking its toll.”

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