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September 23, 2012 3:39 PM Suicide is now the leading cause of injury-related death in America, and the economy may be to blame

By Kathleen Geier

An extremely disturbing new study published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that suicides have replaced car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. This is partly because deaths from automobile accidents are down — that’s the good news.

But the truly catastrophic news is that the suicide rate has increased dramatically: between 2000 and 2009, according to data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, deaths by suicide went up by 15%, and deaths from poisoning increased by a whopping 128%. Moreover, researchers say that many of the poisoning deaths, which are labeled as “accidental,” may actually be intentional. According to the study’s author, Professor Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, “Suicides are terribly undercounted; I think the problem is much worse than official data would lead us to believe.” He added “there may be 20 percent or more unrecognized suicides.”

Experts note that much of the increase in poisoning deaths is due to prescription drug overdoses, but none of the reports I found about the study speculate about what psychological, social, or economic causes are behind the spike in suicides. (I was unable to find an online copy of the study itself). But there is strong evidence elsewhere that our disastrous economy may be playing a significant role. Last year, a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that “[s]uicide rates in the U.S. tend to rise during recessions and fall amid economic booms.”

In Europe, a recent wave of “suicides by economic crisis” has been well-documented, as these shocking statistics attest:

In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, government statistics show. In Ireland during the same period, suicides among men rose more than 16 percent. In Italy, suicides motivated by economic difficulties have increased 52 percent, to 187 in 2010 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — from 123 in 2005.

And in the midst of this stunning evidence of overwhelming human devastation and tragedy, we have a major party candidate for president who seems to believe that America’s biggest problem is that too many poor people don’t pay enough income taxes. It chills my blood just thinking about it.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • gregor on September 23, 2012 4:32 PM:

    This is nothing.

    Wait till President Romney is inaugurated, or, more likely, men and women start reading Naomi Wolf's discourse on her body part.

  • c u n d gulag on September 23, 2012 4:49 PM:

    To be honest, if Romney wins, when my almost 81 year-old Mother dies, I might consider finding a way to kill myself, too.

    What does a 54 year-old man, who applies for hundreds of jobs a year - and gets no calls for interviews - and who's apparetnly insufficiently disabled (according to the government), to do?

    Obamacare gives me some hope. Maybe I can get myself fixed-up enough to find some decent work.

    Romney/RyanDon'tCare, doesn't.

    I'm about at my wit's end - and my wit ain't exactly thousands of miles long. And I'm sure many people here will agree with that. :-)

  • beckya57 on September 23, 2012 4:54 PM:

    Here in the US you also have to factor in war veterans. I don't know the numbers, but I know we've had several suicides, including some murder-suicides, on the Army base where I work. We're doing a whole day as a hospital on the subject this week, as it's become a huge issue.

  • rose on September 23, 2012 5:43 PM:

    My husband (he is 55 years old) has had both his hips replaced, the right one twenty-two years ago, and the left just a year and a half ago, while he was on unemployment. (I thank the government that we were able to pay for it through COBRA). He had a hell of a time finding a job, as you can imagine he walks with a limp. No way would the doc say he was disabled, I guess if you have sit down job that is easy to say, but my husband is a physical type of worker. In the following 6 months he found a job with a pay loss of almost $8000 a year, but it has health insurance, and paid sick days and vacation.

    He also had thoughts of suicide, not too much but enough for me to worry. (Also, we live close enough to the Walkway,over the Hudson River, if you know what I mean.)
    Anyway, hang in there, CUND, we know it's hard out here. Wishing the best to you and your mom.

    And I love your posts, and think you're plenty witty!

  • c u n s gulag on September 23, 2012 6:25 PM:

    rose,
    I live in about 6 miles (as the Route 9 following crow flies) from the Walkway and the FDR/Mid-Hudson Bridge! I graduated from Marist, about a mile North of the new Walkway - which was completed thanks to the OBAMA STIMULUS!!!

    If I go, I'll jump off the Mid-Hudson - I'm too handicapped to walk along the Walkway, where, I've heard they put up very high fences to stop people from pulling a Steve Brodie 60 miles North of the Brooklyn Bridge

    But, I ain't jumpin' yet!
    I'm too busy working on trying to rid the House of Nan Hayworth(LESS)!!!

  • Nycweboy on September 23, 2012 6:46 PM:

    I would hesitate to draw too many conclusions - economics may give some indication of why suicides seem to be increasing in the US, but that's not something necessarily proven by data. The data simply indicates a percentage increase. Suicidal tendencies could also speak to a general failure to properly assess and treat mental health, and inadequate resources for the depressed. I think that, as much as the economy speaks to an equally worrisome cultural attitude these days that " you're on your own" in difficult times and our societal capacity to help those especially in need has broken down. Which is to say, it would be simplistic to say suicides would drop if people could just find work or some such. Better mental health services are probably a big piece of any real attempt to make a difference on suicidal behavior.

  • maggie on September 23, 2012 7:03 PM:

    I commute every day across one of the bridges here in Portland OR that seems to be the bridge of choice for jumpers. I can attest there's been an increase in the times I've crossed that bridge when there's been a swarm of police and rescue vehicles on the bridge - it's obvious there's been a jumper (and once I saw the victim), yet there's never a peep in the local papers. I suppose they don't want to encourage copy-cat acts? But the flip side is that I think most people have absolutely no clue how common it is.

  • Kathryn on September 23, 2012 7:07 PM:

    Best to you C U N D, it is tough out there and can only imagine what it would be like to send out all those job applications. I think folks in the fifties are in the toughest spot in this economy, makes me grateful to be a decade older. When my pension was dumped due to a managed bankruptcy, we were lucky enough to be covered by the PBGC. Wish there was a salary for blog posts cause you 'd be a top earner.

  • bluestatedon on September 23, 2012 7:23 PM:

    CUND, we can sympathize on the job front... my 59-yr-old wife had her position eliminated at her university job (with no warning, of course) in March 2011, and is still jobless to this day. She has applied to scores of positions inside the university and out, and hardly even gets an interview. There's no doubt in my mind that a number of these positions were filled by 20-somethings who've since been fired or just left, but the sad fact is that it seems literally nobody wants to hire anybody over the age of 40, let alone 55. What makes us particularly angry is that the university is one of those "progressive" institutions of higher education that is always beating its chest about how non-discriminatory it is, and it's all a crock of shit. Thank god I'm self-employed.

  • ArchTeryx on September 23, 2012 10:13 PM:

    I feel for those that feel that there is no other way - I've had a few suicidal crises of my own, the most recently one, yep, employment related. As a 41-year old STEM Ph.D. who's spent his ENTIRE LIFE chasing after degrees and qualifications, all to make me a "desirable hire"? Well, at the end of half a lifetime of CV chasing, at the end I try to start a career in a Depression. The most I could find was a technician-level position - and it was a year-long temp position that ends in a few months.

    After that, what then?

  • Annette on September 23, 2012 10:26 PM:

    Just sending some good wishes to c u n s gulag. My grandfather was one of those depression-era suicides, and hope you won't be one in future, do hang in there and "if you're going through hell, keep on going."

    I wasn't quite where you are but was in a very dark place about 7 years back when I realized how impossibly hard it was to get a job in my mid-50s. Finally got a secretary bookkeeper job (way below my previous jobs which paid 4 times as much, but at that point I was glad to get it) through a mutual acquaintance. After that, got a better job that is decent and pays about twice what the secretary bookkeeper job did. I feel like that is nothing to count on because honestly I was very lucky but it did happen and I got a professional job again. That job though was one that was sort of an antique in that you took a test and if you scored high enough got an interview -- I agree with you in general you can't even get an interview and it seems to be a total waste applying for most stuff online and many places won't accept any other sort of application.

    But sometimes things DO get better, they did for me, I'm sane now instead of beside myself and sad, wanting a job I just couldn't get. And money's a poor reason to jump off a bridge. Hang in there & wish you the BEST!!
    All you need is ONE BREAK and it can happen. Meantime,
    If you can find any sort of path to ecstasy it can help. I went to kirtan (chanting) in spite of not sharing one belief about their religion. Music -- whatever.

    Best wishes.

  • PEA on September 23, 2012 11:51 PM:

    CUND Gulag, you're one of my favs to read! Don't you dare disappear on me. You've got a lot of knowledge, great ability to zap to the bottom line, and you often make me laugh out loud -- which is such a pleasure, as too often life can seem pretty mean and nasty, with humans not helping so much. Sounds like I'm not your only fan, too. Will cross my fingers that someone you know has the right connection to land you a job you enjoy. Sounds like you have amazing persistence and resilience to hang in there in these very tough times. In the meantime, hope you're thinking about writing something beyond "comments". Even if you self-published, your WaMo buds would probably be interested in your POV on many things. Heck, I'd rather read something you wrote than Bob Woodward's new book, although maybe that's not saying as much as I mean (if you know what I mean).
    PS, I know you hate Captcha, but it actually seems to have become ever so slightly easier to see lately. Maybe someone really does listen to us rant. Or not, as it's not gone, is it.

  • CEHin NJ on September 24, 2012 8:42 AM:

    Note that the data showing the rise in suicides was collected 2000-2009. 8 of the 9 years were before the current recession started. How does the headline of this article relate to this data?

    Also, why stop with 2009? Why isn't the data for 2008-present shown? Isn't that the correct time period for correlating any social data with the effects of the current recession?

  • Roddy McCorley on September 24, 2012 9:49 AM:

    c u n d gulag, I was debating whether to post this, but I feel very similarly to you. I'm also 54. I spent three years working freelance - which frequently means not getting paid - just scraping by and casting resumes into the void. Every credit card went to collection. My car was repossessed. I held onto my house, barely. My underwater house.

    I was lucky enough to find work in 2010 - two jobs, as things turned out. Which let me dig out of the hole from the previous three years - and that's it. Nothing extra to put away. Both jobs ended at the same time. And I was right back to wondering how the bloody hell I'm gonna pay 100% of my bills on an unemployment check that amounts to 25% of my former salary.

    I'm okay at the moment, but working out of the country. It's on a trial basis. If it works out, great. If not, I've got no real prospects to go back to. And yeah, I realize how goddam lucky I am to at least have a chance right now.

    However, I have decided I am not going to go through another three years like that. I am not going to spend the next 20 years grubbing for nickels, and begging creditors for a few more weeks. I will just pull the plug. When there is no point in going on, I will not do so.

    And I consider this a wholly rational course of action.

    So, yeah, I have no trouble believing a jump in suicides is directly linked to a concerted assault on the economic well-being of every American who has to work for a living.

  • toowearyforoutrage on September 24, 2012 10:19 AM:

    CUND,

    As others have said, you can't leave us. You write what I think before I can which saves me hours of time not having to type what you say better anyway.

    Any chance you can hammer out the necessary paperwork for an LLC company of your own? I have and though I am fully employed, it helps me sleep knowing that my resume will never again have a gap in it. Most people, I suspect, can't understand the paperwork necessary. People that comment here clearly CAN handle it, though it's tedious and confusing. I'm not claiming it's a great solution, but maybe it's something positive to work with. If not, apologies for presuming to understand anything about your situation. I meant no offense.

    As for the article:

    People who struggle... maybe uninsured. Remember that guy that screamed "Let 'em die!" at the Republican convention????

    Romney's austerity plan is just givin' the public what they ask for. Suicide is a feature of Republican economic policies, not a bug.

  • Dredd on September 24, 2012 11:45 AM:

    A contemporary statistic in this context is that suicide now kills more U.S. military realm folks that war does.

  • Joanne on September 25, 2012 12:11 AM:

    The lack of mental health assistance even for those insured is a huge problem. The insured have copays that can not fit into the budget. Uninsured wait to be seen..and wait. Combine mental health issues unaddressed with physical comorbities such as diabetes or renal~that are chronic,and you have a recipe for disaster. Not to mention drug or alcohol on board. I am not surprised at the statistics. Professionally I have been giving out 24/7 crisis numbers to any pts that are interested, as a listening ear can prevent harm to self or others.

  • Joanne on September 25, 2012 2:05 AM:

    Numbers fyi- National Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-8255 and National Hopeline Network 1-800-784-2433. Anyone who needs a chat, call one or the other- is worth it !

  • Charley James on September 25, 2012 8:18 AM:

    This shocks but doesn't surprise me at all, and I suspect a big chunk of the increase can be blamed on a combination of the foreclosure crisis and recession.

    Over the last six months, I've written more than 30 articles on formerly middle class individuals, couples and families who've become homeless and, usually, jobless. (They are archived at www.laprogressive/author/charley-james). Depression is a major ailment this group of citizens face and many of those I've interviewed talked about seriously considering suicide at some point. I did a piece on a family whose 16-year old son killed himself as a result of being bullyied and tormented at school because of his family's plight.

    The problem is made worse because services to help are overstretched thanks to budget cuts and indifference by especially (but not exclusively) right wing politicians. For example, the boy I wrote about was in a school district where counsellors had been paid off - heaven forbid someone's taxes go up! - and there was a weeks-long waiting list at a community clinic. Kip killed himself before his parents could get him in to see a mental health professional. Likewise, people in rural areas who face homelessness and the ensuing depression face a double challenge in getting help. Either it's hours away by car or it is simply not available.

    The news media holds part of the blame. As I reported in an article two weeks ago, according to Extra! which isn't a cable network celebrity gossip show but the magazine of media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an analysis of the 10,489 campaign stories on major news outlets so far this year, only 17 addressed issues of poverty, homelessness and hunger.

    "Discussions of poverty in campaign coverage were so rare," FAIR concluded, "that PBS NewsHour had the highest percentage of its campaign stories addressing poverty — with a single story, 0.8 percent of its total. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s "All Things Considered," and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty."

    This is disgusting. Why isn't something affecting 1-in-6 Americans considered news?

    Assuming my agent can close a deal for the book with one of the publishers who are interested, the articles will form part of "Homeless In America: Our Immorality Play" where depession and suicide, and other hidden costs, of homelessness and poverty is not only reported on but there's a way to fix the problem that's actually cheaper than letting it fester.