By Shereen Siewert
Suicide rates rose by nearly 26 percent in Wisconsin since 1999, according to a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The sharp increase in suicides in Wisconsin is higher than the national average, which sits at about 24 percent. Suicide numbers spiked in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, according to the most recent data available.
Also notable: in more than half of all deaths in 27 states, victims had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives, though the CDC acknowledges that mental health conditions could have been present and not diagnosed, known, or reported.
Only Nevada recorded a decline for the overall period, although its rate remained higher than the national average. The decline in Nevada was 1 percent.
Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem but a public health one. 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.
The most common method used across all groups was firearms.
“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. And we know that the rates are actually higher than what’s reported. But homicides still get more attention.”
One factor in the rising rate, say mental health professionals as well as economists, sociologists and epidemiologists, is the Great Recession that hit 10 years ago. A 2017 study in the journal Social Science and Medicine revealed that a rise in the foreclosure rate during the downturn was associated with an overall increase in suicide rates. The increase was higher for white males than any other race or gender group.
The dramatic rise in opioid addiction also can’t be overlooked, experts say, though separating accidental from intentional deaths by overdose can be problematic. The CDC has calculated that suicides from opioid overdoses nearly doubled between 1999 and 2014, and data from a 2014 national survey showed that individuals addicted to prescription opioids had a 40 to 60 percent higher risk of suicidal thoughts. Habitual users of opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as people who did not use them, the survey showed.
High suicide numbers in the United States are not a new phenomenon. In 1999, then-Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report on the state of mental health in the country and called suicide “a significant public health problem.” The latest data at that time showed about 30,000 suicides a year.
The problems most frequently associated with suicide are difficulties in relationships; work or finance stressors; substance use problems; physical health issues; and recent or impending crises. The most important takeaway, mental health professionals say, is that suicide is an issue not only for the mentally ill but for anyone struggling with serious lifestyle problems.
The rates of suicide for all states and the District of Columbia were calculated using data from the National Vital Statistics System. Information about contributing circumstances for those who died by suicide was obtained via the National Violent Death Reporting System, which is relatively new and in place in 27 states including Wisconsin.
Know the 12 Suicide WARNING SIGNS
- Feeling like a burden
- Being isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased substance use
- Looking for a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger or rage
- Extreme mood swings
- Expressing hopelessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking or posting about wanting to die
- Making plans for suicide
5 Steps to help someone at risk
- Keep them safe.
- Be there.
- Help them connect.
- Follow up.
Find out how this can save a life by visiting: www.BeThe1To.com
Preventing suicide involves everyone in the community.
Provide financial support to individuals in need.
- States can help ease unemployment and housing stress by providing temporary support.
Strengthen access to and delivery of care.
- Healthcare systems can offer treatment options by phone or online where services are not widely available.
Create protective environments.
- Employers can apply policies that create a healthy environment and reduce stigma about seeking help.
Connect people within their communities.
- Communities can offer programs and events to increase a sense of belonging among residents.
Teach coping and problem-solving skills.
- Schools can teach students skills to manage challenges like relationship and school problems.
Prevent future risk.
- Media can describe helping resources and avoid headlines or details that increase risk.
Identify and support people at risk.
- Everyone can learn the signs of suicide, how to respond, and where to access help.
If you need help for yourself or someone else:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Talk: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)