The National Center for Health Statistics released a report Friday indicating that the suicide rate has risen to the highest level in nearly 30 years. The news is deeply troubling and distressing. While the statistics vary between men, women, by age group, and by ethnicity, viewing the numbers in general raises deep concerns. Of particular note is the alarming increase for girls age 10 – 14 years old, which still low has tripled. American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups. White middle aged women experienced a very steep increase also. Only one age group noted a decline, that of both men and women over the age of 75.
Analysis of the data painted a possible picture of desperation for many in American society. Researchers are highlighting an emerging understanding of the challenges less educated face, with increases in death from drug overdoses, suicide, liver disease, alcohol poisoning. The links between poverty, hopelessness and health are emerging as public health issues.
It is imperative to insure that education and suicide prevention are strongly funded and universally available. Funding for suicide prevention continues to represent a small fraction of what is available for research for mental illness. We know that many hospitals and health systems across the country screen for suicidal thinking and offer good treatment programs. But still, too many do not have adequate resources and access to early identification, intervention and referral. The good news is that we have effective treatments that we know work and make a positive difference. We must determine how to make it an automatic part of our collective communities and medical culture.
YHC has been working to reduce stigma, providing education to communities, creating community based coalitions, offering “How Not To Keep A Secret” to high school teens, and increasing access to intervention and referral through William James College Interface program. We must double down on our efforts. It is time.