Suicides in the United States are on the rise. The number of people who die by their own hand every year is roughly equivalent to the number of people who overdose on prescription pain killers. Yet there is virtually no press coverage or public debate about the matter.
On average, 129 people die by suicide every day. Another 1.4 million per year attempt suicide. By way of comparison, that’s more than the total number of people living in the state of Maine.
Make no mistake – suicide is an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of men, women, and children every year. Here are some alarming facts about suicide that everyone should know:
Who Is Affected by Suicide in the United States?
In 2017, more than 47,000 people died by suicide. In fact, there were more suicides in America than homicides or deaths from methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.
Men are 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than women. More than 90% of those who completed suicide had a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death. Veterans are also 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and you never hear about it on the nightly news unless it’s a celebrity.
Amongst minority groups in America, suicide rates are especially alarming. Consider the following:
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual kids are 3x more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide at some point in their lives.
- Medically serious attempts at suicide are 4x more likely among LGBTQ youth than other young people.
- African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual attempt suicide at especially high rates.
- 41% of trans adults said they had attempted suicide, in one study. The same study found that 61% of trans people who were victims of physical assault had attempted suicide.
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people who come from families that reject or do not accept them are over 8x more likely to attempt suicide than those whose families accept them.
- Each time an LGBTQ person is a victim of physical or verbal harassment or abuse, they become 2.5x more likely to hurt themselves.
- Suicide affects men, women, and children. It is most likely to affect white males, Native Americans, and Alaskans, but children as young as 10 die by suicide in the United States.
Suicide is a national epidemic.
What is the Cost of Suicide in the United States?
Every year, suicide costs American citizens upwards of 69 billion dollars in medical expenses, lost productivity, and public services involvement (e.g., law enforcement and local fire departments).
Collectively, estimates are that some 950,000 years of life are lost annually to this scourge.
This is to say nothing of the social, psychological, and emotional toll that suicide takes from family, friends, and loved ones.
Losing a loved one is traumatic enough when it is from disease, old age, or accidental death. Grief and bereavement are painful and complex processes, but it’s worse for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. People get confused and angry. They become accusatory and defensive. They feel betrayed and abandoned.
As a result, suicide tends to rip apart families. It ransacks marriages and friendships as well, largely due to the myriad ways that people react to the death of a loved one in this manner.
How Do People Commit suicide in the United States?
More than half of all suicides in the United States involve a firearm. Adults can buy handguns, shotguns, and rifles with relative ease. For the suicidal, access to firearms is a grave threat. While sellers are required to perform background checks, a person’s history of mental illness can easily be missed.
In 2017, 39,773 people died as a result of firearms. That number includes homicides, accidental deaths, and suicide, which accounts for about 24,000 of those deaths.
As a result of mass shootings and especially violence in schools, there has been much debate about gun rights and who should have access to weapons. It’s astounding, though, that so few people talk about suicide. You are far more likely to die by your own hand than in a mass shooting, or a terrorist attack, or even homicide in the United States of America.
Men, of course, are more likely to use a firearm to complete suicide. Suffocation (such as hanging) is also quite common, accounting for more than a quarter of all suicides each year. People poison themselves as well, though it is not as common as firearm deaths or hanging. It accounts for almost 14% of all suicides in the United States. About 8% of suicides are accomplished by other means, such as cutting and falls.
Why Do People Commit Suicide in the United States?
People decide to commit suicide for myriad reasons. For many, it’s due to a pervasive mental disorder or terminal illnesses. Traumatic experiences are also a big reason why people choose to complete suicide. Others commit suicide due to relationships ending, work loss, or financial devastation. Amongst children, bullying in its many forms is a factor.
We will never know the exact reason why people decide to end their lives. Many never explain their rationale. However, there are people who fall into high-risk categories. They are as follows:
- Prior suicide attempts
- Major depression and other mental health disorders
- Substance abuse disorders and addiction
- A family history of a mental health or substance abuse disorder
- A family history of suicide
- Family violence, including domestic violence and physical or sexual abuse
- Access to firearms in the home
- Being in prison or jail
- Exposure to others’ suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer, or media figure
- Medical illness
- Being between the ages of 15 and 24 years or over age 60
While there are several organizations and non-profits that promote suicide awareness and suicide prevention, we need much more to combat this public health nightmare. We need more prevention programs and education in schools. We need easier access to social services. We need national campaigns to reduce mental health stigma. And we need more funding to hire and retain counselors to treat people who suffer from suicidal ideation and overt suicidality.
For people who struggle with thoughts of suicide, the single best thing you can do is talk to someone who cares. Many find that support from professional counselors and therapists is a crucial tool. Others lean on family and friends for comfort and care.
Regardless of who is part of your support system, the worst thing you can do is keep those thoughts to yourself. Suicidal thoughts are analogous to a malfunctioning computer. You can’t trust them, no matter how compelling they seem to be.
People can and do get better. Suicidal thoughts can and do go away. People can and do overcome mental illness and substance use disorders. People can and do remove themselves from toxic relationships, homes, and situations. Reach out to your supports. Let them help you. Don’t be a statistic. Life is precious, and so are you. Don’t ever forget that.
- By the numbers: An alarming rise in suicide
- Suicide Facts & Figures: United States 2019
- Suicide Statistics
- What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.
- Suicide Prevention Resource
- Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions
- List of states and territories of the United States by population
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Veterans Crisis Line
- The TREVOR Project (Support for LGBTQ Community)
About the Author
Randy Withers is a Board-Certified Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Addictions Specialist in North Carolina who specializes in the trauma-informed treatment of co-occurring disorders. He is also the Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy, a blog about mental health. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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