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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,042
Sept. 31, 2020
Suicide Rate Rising
By Mike McManus

America's suicide rate is rising - particularly among military veterans. Some 48,344 people killed themselves in 2018 - up from 42,773 in 2014. And the rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014.

By contrast, the global suicide rate has declined by nearly a third since 1990!

America's deaths from despair are responsible for a three year decline in U.S. life expectancy - the first such drop since 1915-1918 during the flu epidemic and World War I.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. An average of 123 people take their own lives daily.

A major reason for America's rise in suicides is a 20% jump this year among military veterans. More than 45,000 veterans and active duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day. What's surprising is that suicide took more military lives than those who died in combat in Afghanistan and Iran! In 2016 veterans were one and a half times more likely to kill themselves than people who have not served in the military.

The suicide rate varies enormously by state. New Mexico and Wyoming's rate is more than triple that of New Jersey or Massachusetts A key variable is whether the person had a gun. Three-fourths of the deaths in Wyoming were by a firearm, while only 20% of suicides in Massachusetts were by gun.

If you know someone is depressed and might be considering suicide, I suggest you get any gun out of their home.

Three-fourths of suicides are by males. One reason is that they are more likely to have guns than women.

While suicide is the 7th leading cause of death for males in America, it is the second leading cause for young people aged 15-34, and the third major reason for deaths of kids who are only aged 10-14! However, the rate of suicide is highest among middle-aged white men.

Suicide is associated with tough economic conditions, such as America's big recession this past year. Men who took pride in supporting their families are ashamed that they are no longer doing so. Even those who find work, may only be able to earn a minimum wage of under $8 an hour.

Men over 65 are at greatest risk of suicide, while those aged 40-64 have a similarly high rate.

What can be done to reverse these trends? I have two initial suggestions. First, let's set a national goal to slash America's 45,000 annual suicides in half! Second, let's elect a Democratic president and Senate who can lift the minimum wage to $15 per hour!

More importantly, if you know someone who seems depressed, who appears to be abusing alcohol or drugs, take the person to dinner and ask some tough questions: Are you depressed? If so, why? Have you considered taking your own life? Listen and express sympathy, and affirm their importance to you and others. Assure him or her that you will keep the matter confidential, and will pray for them.

Ask how you can help. Offer to sit with them anytime they are lonely. Invite them over to your home "for the best Netflix binge." In a quiet moment, ask "How much are you drinking or using drugs to excess?"

Let them open up at their own pace. Avoid giving advice and simply be a listening ear, a warm friend. Encourage them to reach out for professional help. Suggest that they text 741741 if they would like professional help. Or suggest that they call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800 273-8255.

Call them regularly to ask how they are doing. If they are feeling hopeless, ask what's behind that feeling? Listen without judgment and with compassion and empathy. Help your friend connect to a support system - a mental health professional. Offer to sit down with and write out a support system plan or find resources for them.

Once you know your friend or loved one has connected to resources and is not in crisis, you will feel a sense of relief that they are safe.

Check in with your friend or loved one regularly.

You can be a life saver!


Copyright (c) 2020 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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