While celebrity figures Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain may seem far removed from rural America, their tragic deaths shed light on a national crisis, one the farming and ranching community has seen far too often. According to the latest Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide.
This is especially concerning for rural America since a 2016 study found farmers and ranchers commit suicide at a rate five times that of the general population.
“Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “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.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.
For this Vital Signs report, CDC researchers examined state-level trends in rates from 1999-2016. In addition, they used 2015 data from CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, which covered 27 states, to look at the circumstances of suicide among people with and without known mental health conditions.
Researchers found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk. Firearms were the most common method used by those with and without a known diagnosed mental health condition.
The most recent overall rates (2014-2016) varied four-fold; from 6.9 per 100,000 residents per year in Washington, D.C. to 29.2 per 100,000 residents in Montana.
Across the study period, rates increased in nearly all states. Percentage increases in suicide rates ranged from just under 6 percent in Delaware to over 57 percent in North Dakota. Twenty-five states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 percent.
The report recommends that states take a comprehensive public health approach to prevention and address the range of factors contributing to suicide. This requires coordination and cooperation from every sector of society: government, public health, healthcare, employers, education, media, and community organizations.
Last month the National Farmers Union called on the USDA to help address the farmer suicide crisis by convening agricultural and rural stakeholders at the national, state, and local levels to assess the causes of mental stress in farmers and ranchers, identify best practices in responding to that stress, and leverage partnerships with nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies.