Rural America is in huge trouble when it comes to suicide

This study – and the subsequent reports – paint a stark and brutal picture for rural America. They also paint a devastating picture when it comes to suicide.

First, the study itself, as published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that suicide rates had increased 41% among those aged 25-64 between 1999-2016. The greatest increase occurred in rural counties.

The abstract of the study attributed the rise to underemployment, poverty, low incomes lack of health insurance and the presence of gun shops. It also noted that less social contact, more single individuals, unmarried individuals and veterans also had higher rates of suicide – and these individuals were more likely to be in rural counties than urban ones.

These numbers are brutal. For the sake of this blog entry, I’ll make two broad comments about addressing these issues, one which deals with public policy and one which deals with our society as a whole.

First and foremost, when it comes to governance. Folks, government needs to do more. We need a more robust, active and flexible government when it comes to preventing mental health, unless we are comfortable with massive spikes in mental illness and suicide. Government needs to do more at providing mental health resources for rural America. We need to make transportation easier, or increase access to mental health help via telemedicine. We need to become more involved in creating a social safety net. And we need to do a better job at limiting access to guns. These are all important things to do. They are also politically difficult. And they still must be done.

Secondly, the broader, societal conversation about this. The study reiterates something which has been discussed before – contentedness leads to a decrease in suicide, and being disconnected from others increases suicidal risk. Rural America, by its very nature, can be socially isolated – and, as such, faces an increased suicide risk.

This speaks to a broader problem. Obviously, there are a slew of governmental and public policy changes I would make if I had the magic wand which would change policy in such a broad way. However, all the pubic policy changes and health insurance in the world will not stop this mental health and suicide crisis we are in. Don’t get me wrong, it can make a major difference, but we can’t truly stop suicides without changing society. Our increased pace of life, less time for actual conversations, economic stress – they are all leading to increases in mental illness and suicides. That’s because human connection and conversation are protective factors – they make us feel better. They make us less likely to die. And I think that’s one of the reasons why urban America does better than rural America when it comes to suicides – urban environments promote more social atmospheres.

As always, this one is above my pay grade. I can make comments about public policy, but changing society is well above what my brain can handle. Your comments and thoughts are appreciated, as always!


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