Although suicide is a topic that most of us would rather not discuss, it affects us all. We often comfort ourselves with the notion that it wouldn't happen to us or those we love. After all, we believe that if our loved ones were feeling hopeless and depressed we would be among the first to know, and we would help them.
However, depression and suicide has become a tragically bigger part of American society in recent years. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 (the most recent year of data available), suicide ranked #10 on the list of American causes of deaths and 38,364 suicide deaths were reported. While it ranks #10 for Americans of all age groups, it is the 3rd leading cause of death for youths aged 15-24. For many years it has been a problem for young people and the elderly, but death by suicide among middle-aged individuals is rising. The demographics of suicide show that, overall, a great percentage happen in rural areas where easier access to firearms accounts for over half of the annual deaths by suicide. Of course, depression is one of the greatest risk factors of them all. Here, we've taken a look at 7 states - all in the West - that have the highest rates of suicide, and 3 states on the East Coast that have the lowest rates.
10 Wyoming (23.2 per 100,000)
In 2010, the “Equality State” headed up the list leading the entire nation with the most suicides. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), rates are measured based on 100,000 residents. The latest data from the CDC reveals a rate of 23.2 deaths by suicide per 100,000. In a November 2012 report, the Wyoming Department of Health Public Health Division cited Wyoming's problem as being influenced by adult behavioral risk factors such as being disabled, being avid smokers, having no health insurance, and binge drinking. Two-thirds of all suicide deaths in Wyoming are by firearm and state prevention leaders see “limiting the availability of guns” as the best way to overcome the suicide problem.
9 Alaska (23.1 per 100,000)
Alaska is the second highest nationally for rates of suicide at 23.1. However, according to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics, this state actually has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the entire country. This means that based on population alone, Alaska has an alarmingly high amount of self-inflicted deaths — about 10 suicides occur in the state each month. Reports show that about 78% of those deaths are men and about 22% are women. What’s more, a recent study revealed a correlation between high rates of suicide and high latitudes. In other words, it appears that the further north residents live, the higher the likelihood of death by suicide.
8 Montana (22.9 per 100,000)
Coming in third place for the highest suicide rates is the Treasure State. According to AFSP data, Montana had about 22.9 suicides per 100,000 people in 2010. While there are only about 1 million residents in the state, approximately 15 of them attempt to kill themselves each day on average. Again, firearms make up about two-thirds of completed deaths with hangings (13%) and drugs (10%) being the other means. To combat this issue, in 2011, the state handed out over 4,000 gunlocks to residents. They have also increased their distribution of toolkits and training programs for use of firearms.
7 Nevada (20.3 per 100,000)
It may be surprising to most tourists who view the Silver State as an escape for gambling and entertainment that, despite its appealing nightlife industry, the state has a real problem with suicide. It was ranked by Health.com as one of 10 most depressed states and has a suicide rate of about 20.3. Most of Nevada’s suicides occur where nearly three-fourths of the population live — Las Vegas. According to an article in LA Times, those who live in Sin City have a 50% higher chance of ending their own life when compared to all other American metropolitan areas. Perhaps most distressing is the fact that suicide stands as the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 in the state.
6 New Mexico (20.1 per 100,000)
The fifth largest state also ranks fifth in the nation for suicide at 20.1 per 100,000 people. Adolescent suicide is twice the national average in New Mexico with about 63 completed deaths in 2012. The 2011 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey showed that about 17.2% of Santa Fe county's youth between grades 9 and 12 had seriously considered committing suicide and 10.2% had made an attempt. The state identifies youth risk factors that overlap on a national level as well. These include mental disorder, substance abuse, a family history of suicide, mental illness in parents, life stressors, and access to firearms.
5 Idaho (18.5 per 100,000)
With a rate reported by AFSP as 18.5, suicide quite seriously affects the mountainous Gem State. It is the 2nd leading cause of death among all residents age 15-34 and for males age 10-14, according to a 2013 fact sheet from the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho. Research reported by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reveals that for every individual suicide at least 15 to 22 people are directly impacted. The suicide rate has created a burden for the state’s economy as a whole, with $850,000 being put towards medical care each year. Furthermore, $343 million is lost in lifetime productivity for the residents the state loses to suicide annually. While these starkly pragmatic issues jar against such an emotive question as suicide, it bears considering that a state has practical as well as pastoral reasons to try and decrease highs suicide rates.
4 Oregon (17.9 per 100,000)
Closing off the list of the highest suicide rates is Oregon with an estimated 17.9 suicide completions per 100,000 residents in 2010. Researchers blame this state's problem on the same contributing factors as the other western states listed above: rural area, poor access to health care (namely mental health services), an individualistic culture, and access to firearms. It seems most of Oregon’s suicides are occurring in men ages 45-64 (36.1 per 100,000). The state’s overall rate has been climbing since the dawn of the new millennium. In 2011, 685 residents ended their lives. That number is 2 times that of automotive deaths and 6 times that of deaths by homicide.
3 Maryland (8.7 per 100,000)
On the opposite end of the spectrum comes Maryland with a suicide rate of 8.7 that is well below the national average in 2010 of 12.1 deaths per 100,000. According to America's HealthRankings.org, strengths of the Free State include a significant decline in the number of residents who smoke, a low percentage of impoverished youth, and the ease of availability of general practice physicians and dentists. Still, access to mental health care remains poor with only 19 percent of the state’s mentally ill residents being provided appropriate services.
2 New Jersey (8.2 per 100,000)
Also, on the east coast of the United States, New Jersey falls under the national average for 2010 with 8.2 suicide deaths per 100,000 residents. However, the rate of suicide is on the rise in the state which resembles the rest of the nation. In 2010, there were 719 completed self-inflicted deaths which was the highest in more than a decade. Even with its rates better than the country as a whole, New Jersey continues its plight to lower suicide especially for the younger population; a demographic among which suicide is the 4th leading cause of death.
1 New York (8.0 per 100,000)
The Big Apple boasts one of the lowest suicide rates of the nation from 2010 and is only topped by the District of Columbia (6.8). With a low prevalence of both obesity and smoking, availability of health care, and a high per capita of public health funding, New York has several strengths on its side. Still, death by one’s own hand remains an important issue for public health initiatives to tackle especially since the number of suicides in the state for 2012 outnumbered the amount of homicides.