ST. GEORGE — A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that suicide rates have been on the rise in nearly every U.S. state, and the increase in Utah ranks among the highest in the nation.
The report covers a 17-year period from 1999-2016. Only Nevada saw a 1 percent decrease in its suicide rates in that time period, but the state’s overall rates are still higher than the national average. North Dakota saw the highest increase, at a staggering 57.6 percent increase. Utah wasn’t far behind with a 46.5 percent increase.
Approximately 45,000 people age 10 and older died by suicide in 2016, placing it in the top 10 causes of death among all age groups in the U.S. and well above the National Safety Council’s 40,200 estimated traffic accident deaths that year. Suicide is the No. 2 cause of death for people age 10-34, behind unintentional injury.
The CDC’s report examines what factors play into the circumstances contributing to suicide, finding that more than half of reported suicides did not involve people with a known diagnosed mental health condition.
Relationship problems or loss; substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide. Firearms were the most common method of suicide, followed by suffocation and poisoning.
At a rate of 21.8 deaths per 100,000 total population in 2016, Utah had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country.
In Southern Utah, the death rate for suicide was 24.9 in the southwest region and 46.4 in the southeast region – the highest reported rate in all of the state’s regional health districts – according to data from 2013-2015 compiled by the Utah Department of Health. In the same time period, the city of St. George was slightly above the state average for suicide deaths, while Cedar City fell slightly below.
“Suicide rates in the community are skyrocketing, and that is something I am very concerned about,” Teresa Willie, a licensed prevention specialist with the Southwest Behavioral Health Center, said at a recent public information meeting held by Dixie State University’s National Alliance on Mental Illness club. She is working on an initiative to train more Washington County residents in suicide prevention.
In recent years, suicide has consistently been the No. 1 cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17, according Utah state health officials. The average yearly total number of teen suicides over the last five years is more than double the yearly average from the previous decade.
The issue of suicide in youth age 10-17 is gender neutral. While more boys die of suicide than girls each year, more girls attempt suicide than do boys, according to an examination of three years of data from 2012-2014 by the Utah Department of Health.
Excessive use of electronic devices, bullying – especially of LGBT teens – alcohol or drug abuse, family history of suicide or violence, lack of social support, physical health, relationship or school problems and stressful life events or loss were among some of the major risk factors for youth suicide identified by the health department.
The health department’s study outlines the following “protective factors” that may help reduce suicide risk in youth:
- Receiving effective mental health care or substance abuse treatment.
- Positive connections to family, peers, community and social institutions that foster resilience.
- Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide, such as firearms or pills.
- Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and nonviolent handling of disputes.
- Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation.
Prevention is everyone’s responsibility
The CDC report suggests that suicide prevention should involve coordination and cooperation from every sector of society, including government, public health, health care, employers, education, media and community organizations.
“Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said in a statement issued by the CDC. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”
Individuals may contribute to prevention efforts by learning the warning signs of suicide in order to identify and appropriately respond to people at risk through such resources as the #BeThe1To website.
The CDC also encourages families to reduce access to lethal means, such as medications and firearms, to people at risk of suicide.
If you or someone you know is in danger because of suicidal thoughts or actions, call 911 immediately. Suicide is an emergency that requires help by trained medical professionals and should always be treated seriously.
Nationwide suicide hotlines, 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and 1-800-273-TALK (8255), have counselors available 24/7. The Southwest Behavioral Health Center also offers help for Southern Utah residents; call 800-574-6763 or 435-634-5600.
Other resources include Suicide.org, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology. All provide comprehensive information and help on the issue of suicide, from prevention to treatment to coping with loss.
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