The CDC has released new suicide statistics for 2018 (previous numbers were for 2017). The results, by and large, were problematic. In a nutshell:
- Suicide deaths in America went from roughly 47,173 to 48,344. That’s an increase of about 1.4%.
- Believe it or not, there’s good news here. The slope of the increase is starting to flatten: Suicides increased 4% from 2016-2017. This would imply…hopefully…that the rate of suicides is starting to slow down.
- Suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
More data will likely be available in the future, including a breakdown of suicide methods and age breakdowns of those who died. That information, of course, will be particularly insightful. On a personal level, I’m deeply interested in the numbers in Pennsylvania. Since 2013, we’ve had suicide rates that are above the national average. I suspect that those trends remain unchanged and that we will see a small increase over the 2,030 people who took their lives in 2017.
There are two ways to look at these numbers, and I think that both are valid perspectives. On one hand, the problem continues to get worse. Suicide numbers are accelerating, and the numbers continue to get worse, as they have roughly ever year since around 2004.
On the other hand, as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention accurately noted, there are reasons to be hopeful:
- The rate of increase has slowed.
- Awareness about the problems of mental illness and suicide continues to grow.
- More and more people are going public with their own struggles.
- More and more units of government are comprehensively addressing suicide and suicide prevention. Such a strategy appears to be working for opioid overdoses, and that should give us all hope when it comes to suicide prevention.
Indeed, articles like the one run by the Huffington Post on the subject do a great job of discussing suicide. They present the statistics in a rational, reasonable manner. They also present stories of hope and specific, concrete suggestions for how to deal with mental illness and suicide. Those suggestions – reach out, be non-judgemental, understand that suicide is a comprehensive illness – they are all evidence-based.
So, yes. There are reasons to be hopeful, but we must continue to acknowledge that we have a major mental health crisis in front of us. One which will require – demand – public policy decisions.