Nation & World

Suicides up sharply across the U.S.: CDC

Iowa saw an increase of 36 percent between 1999 and 2016

The tombstone of Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, sits at his gravesite in Oakwood Memorial Park cemetery in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 24, 2018.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
The tombstone of Jonathan Fano, who committed suicide while in custody at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, sits at his gravesite in Oakwood Memorial Park cemetery in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016 — with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity — according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Iowa’s rate climbed 36.2 percent during that time period, the CDC found. It is one of 25 states that saw a jump of more than 30 percent, according to a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the CDC report said, the individuals had no known mental health condition when they took their own life.

In North Dakota, the rate jumped more than 57 percent. In the most recent period studied, from 2014 to 2016, the rate was highest in Montana at 29.2 per 100,000 residents, compared with the national average of 13.4 per 100,000.

Only Nevada saw a decline — of 1 percent — for the overall 1999-to-2016 period, though its rate remained higher than the national average.

“Suicide is a serious public health issue that affects not just the individuals who die by suicide and their families, but also our communities and society as a whole,” said Tiffany Conroy, violence prevention coordinator in the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Office of Disability, Injury and Violence Prevention, in a news release on Thursday.

“Fortunately, like other public health issues, suicide can be preventable. By addressing risk and protective factors impacting communities, we can decrease the feelings of isolation and stigma often experienced by people who have thoughts of suicide, and have a positive impact on the health and well-being of our society. We can save lives.”

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Pat McGovern, data manager and suicide prevention coordinator for the department, noted in a phone interview that the challenge with understanding suicide — and Iowa’s ranking — is that “it’s a complex issue.”

He cited varied influencing factors that can include lack of societal supports, geographic isolation, access to firearms and use of drugs and alcohol. Those possible influences prevent citing one primary cause for Iowa’s increase.

One positive that could come from the new CDC report, McGovern added, is that more people might be encouraged to reach out for help.

Nationwide, Iowa ranks 31st for suicides, the department noted in its news release. That’s an improvement from the 1999-to-2001 time period when the state ranked 18th.

Disturbing data

Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th leading cause of death. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Overall, the most common method used was firearms.

“The data are disturbing,” said Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director. “The widespread nature of the increase, in every state but one, really suggests that this is a national problem hitting most communities.”

It is affecting many places especially hard. In half the states, suicide among people 10 years and older increased more than 30 percent.

“At what point is it a crisis?” asked Nadine Kaslow, a past president of the American Psychological Association. “Suicide is a public health crisis when you look at the numbers, and they keep going up. It’s up everywhere.

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“And we know that the rates are actually higher than what’s reported. But homicides still get more attention.”

High suicide numbers in the United States are not a new phenomenon. In 1999, then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report on the state of mental health in America and called suicide “a significant public health problem.”

Gazette business editor Michael Chevy Castranova contributed to this article.

Where to call for help

Call the Iowa Helpline at 1-855-581-8111 or text 1-855-895-8398. Or chat live online, confidentially, at yourlifeiowa.org/suicide.

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