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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,052
December 10, 2020
Suicides Rates Are Rising
By Mike McManus

Suicide rates are rising in America. The death rate by suicide had been relatively stable for decades - 12 per 100,000 in 1970 rising to only 13 per 100,000 in 2018. However, new numbers are jumping.

In Oregon's Columbia County suicides by summer had already surpassed last year's total. In the sprawling suburb of Chicago of DuPage County, suicides are up 23%. In the city itself, African American suicides are ahead of last year.

Globally, suicide rates are mostly down, in contrast to the U.S. However, in America, between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among the young - of teens and young adults - rose by 56%.

The Washington Post reported that "the youngest people had the highest rates of increased anxiety, depression, substance use and other mental health problems."

As a result of covid-19, most schools and colleges have suspended regular classes, and offer classes only on line. This has been traumatic for many young people.

Jonathan Singer, President of the American Association of Suicidology, ( said that "At that age you're looking for your place in the world, searching for your identity. To be stuck in life right now, not able to get a job, not able to plan and see a way forward - to be home and feeling you are a burden - it's challenging."

Four days before he turned 13, Hayden broke the family's screen TV. His parents told him he had to take on extra chores to pay for the replacement. In April, he had planned to celebrate his birthday with friends, but his computer broke a replacement TV as well. That's when he took his life.

His father said, "I think he felt like he ruined his birthday. You combine that with not seeing others, not being able to do the sports that he loved, and the stress of everything going on. It was the perfect storm that led to this one impulsive act - an act he couldn't take back."

In fact, 75% of young adults are struggling. The Centers for Disease Control asked youth if they had considered suicide and a stunning one in four young people say they have considered killing themselves.

However, it is important to note that suicides rates are falling in Europe. America has mismanaged the covid-19 crisis. It was unwise, in my view, to close public schools and colleges. That is what has made so many young people distraught. Their grades have fallen. Many are depressed and miss their friends and such activities as sports.

It would have been far better for the President to have asked people to wear masks. The daily death rate from COVID-19 in America is averaging 2,000 lives a day. That's a death rate that is four times higher than that of Germany. President-Elect Joe Biden says he will ask people to wear masks for 100 days - a very wise step. It should cut our daily death rate in half.

Schools and colleges should also open back up - while requiring everyone to wear masks.

What else can be done? Research shows that even modest interventions, such as asking people if they are okay - can reduce suicides. Large scale studies found that when emergency room technicians asked patients if they have had suicidal thoughts - and then followed up weeks later, it cut the risks of suicidal behavior in half.

Adding such screening questions during the pandemic - at schools, primary care offices and hospitals - could save thousands, experts say.

It is also too easy to buy guns in America. Half of all suicides involve firearms. During the first eight months of this year, more firearms were sold than in all of 2019, according to an analysis of FBI data.

Why not require that there be a three day period after a gun is purchased, before it can be picked up? A lot of hot heads would cool down and fewer people would commit suicide.

Unquestionably, the economy's rise in unemployment and the closing of many
businesses has led some people to a depression that has sparked suicides. Millions of people will lose unemployment benefits in the week after Christmas.

The House and Senate appear closer to an agreement to provide $900 billion in relief to individuals and business hurt by the pandemic. That bill should be passed and signed by President Trump. An agreement appears likely.

That step would prevent many suicides.

However, remember that simply asking people who are hurting, how they are doing - will reduce the likelihood they will commit suicide. Each of us can make a difference.


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


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