CDC and suicide

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It's not just Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain--the CDC has seen large increase in suicides since 1999, when it identified suicide as a public health crisis. Nevada is the only state whose suicide rate hasn't increased since then:

Even though suicide is almost always an individual act, the researchers seem to have difficulty seeing the increase not simply as (at least in part) due to financial stress, but in large measure to the way society has been restructured under neoliberalism, with most people having smaller and shallower personal networks, job tenures being shorter, community organizations being hollowed out, and social safety needs shredding. And as we've written virtually from the inception of this website, highly unequal societies are unhappy and unhealthy. If you lose your position on the social/economic ladder, the fall is sharp. Even people at the top recognize how a big loss could upend how they live.

"The CDC stresses more access to mental health treatment," the piece continues, "and while that would help in many cases, it strikes me as addressing only the most extreme symptoms of increased alienation and desperation." The Intercept's John Thomason calls out the firearms connection:

While the CDC report notes that guns are the most common method for these suicides -- accounting for about half of all cases -- it fails to underscore the extent to which these alarming rates may be attributable to the country's utter saturation with civilian firearms.

"Cut it however you want," the Harvard School of Public Health's Deborah Azrael put it in 2013, but "In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide:"

The reason for this is relatively simple: Unlike other common methods of suicide, firing a gun is an immediate, irreversible, and reliably lethal act. And because suicide is, more often than not, impulsive -- and the time between ideation and action is short -- firearm access is uniquely deadly if someone thinks to kill themselves at all. Gun suicide attempts end in death about 85 percent of the time, compared to less than 5 percent for intentional drug overdoses.

Because of this, the presence of guns in over a third of U.S. households greatly enhances the aggregate risk of suicide deaths. Variation in suicide rates within the U.S. supports this conclusion. A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared states with the lowest household gun ownership rates (15 percent) to those with the highest (47 percent). While non-firearm suicides were basically equivalent in both groups, firearm suicides were about four times more prevalent in the latter. The more firearm-saturated population experienced about twice as many suicide deaths overall.

"The new CDC study itself," mentions Azrael, "found that 54 percent of suicide victims in 2015 had no known mental health conditions:"

And suicidal ideation can arise from a plethora of quotidian experiences that aren't commonly documented or recognized as actionable mental health issues: financial distress, relationship crises, substance abuse, and so on. In these situations, individualized interventions and safer storage methods simply cannot substitute for not having a gun nearby in the first place.

Because it relies on Congress for funding, the CDC may have good reason not to emphasize the unique role of firearms in U.S. suicide rates. In 1993, the agency supported a study that found that people with guns at home faced a risk of suicide five times greater than those without. Three years later, Congress passed what's known as the Dickey Amendment, which effectively prevented the CDC from funding targeted research into gun violence.

The CDC study bluntly reminds us that "Suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30% since 1999:"

From 1999 to 2015, suicide rates increased among both sexes, all racial/ethnic groups, and all urbanization levels. Suicide rates have also increased among persons in all age groups <75 years, with adults aged 45-64 having the largest absolute rate increase (from 13.2 per 100,000 persons [1999] to 19.2 per 100,000 [2016]) and the greatest number of suicides (232,108) during the same period. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are increasing. In addition, rates of emergency department visits for nonfatal self-harm, a main risk factor for suicide, increased 42% from 2001 to 2016. Together, suicides and self-harm injuries cost the nation approximately $70 billion per year in direct medical and work loss costs. [...]

Whereas firearms were the most common method of suicide overall (48.5%), decedents without known mental health conditions were more likely to die by firearm (55.3%) and less likely to die by hanging/strangulation/suffocation (26.9%) or poisoning (10.4%) than were those with known mental health conditions (40.6%, 31.3%, and 19.8%, respectively).

We ignore the threat of firearm proliferation at our peril.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on June 8, 2018 7:53 AM.

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