Two celebrity deaths and release of a landmark national report coincidentally coalesced last week to shine a desperately needed spotlight on a growing but understated public-health menace in our region, our state and our country: suicide.
Last Tuesday, a housekeeper found famed American fashion designer and businesswoman Kate Spade dead in her Manhattan apartment of self-inflicted suffocation.
Last Friday, American celebrity chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain was found in his Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France, hotel room dead also of an apparent suicide by hanging.
And last Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued results of its study spanning 17 years that nails home the point that last week’s self-inflicted deaths of Spade and Bourdain represent only two tragic examples of this nation’s rapidly rising suicide epidemic. It should also serve as a clarion call for all to vow to aggressively address the underlying mental-health and other causes of suicide and to commit to reducing its appalling toll.
Just how appalling is that toll?
According to the new CDC study of suicide trends in all 50 states, about 45,000 suicides were reported in the United States in 2016, the last year for which full data is available.
That’s more than a 25 percent jump since 1999. That’s also more than twice the number of homicides annually in the United States. What’s more, that also makes suicide the 10th-leading cause of death among all Americans and the second-highest cause of death for those between 15 and 24 years old.
In Ohio and the Mahoning Valley, those disturbing trends stick. Ohio, for example, witnessed a 36 percent increase in the number of suicides over the study period.
In Mahoning County, the number of suicides jumped from 27 in 2013 to 39 in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s database. In Trumbull County, that toll jumped from 24 deaths five years ago to 41 in 2016.
‘TRAGEDY FOR FAMILIES’
Clearly, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, is not mincing words when calling suicide “a tragedy for families and communities across the country. From individuals and communities to employers and health care professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide,” she added.
Individuals and groups hoping to play a constructive role in lessening the scourge can start by recognizing its causes and warning signs.
Many times, as the new study points out, that can be difficult. A principal finding challenges commonly held beliefs and conventional wisdom.
It found that more than half of all suicide victims in 2016 did not have any professionally treated mental-health problems at the time of their deaths. Other problems, such as relationship issues, alcoholism or substance abuse or financial struggles push many people over the edge.
In addition, the stigma attached to mental illness lingers and keeps millions of Americans from the professional help they need. For many, unfortunately, the face of mental illness in 2018 is the madman shooter that terrorizes schools and other public places.
Combating such stigma can begin by urging friends and associates with behavior-altering troubles not to suffer in silence and to seek out the help they deserve. Also, high-risk people should not have easy access to lethal items such as medications and firearms. Firearms by far still account for the lion’s share of suicide tools, the report says.
HELP IN THE VALLEY
Helpful resources abound, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Close to home, county boards of Mental Health and Recovery offer a hodgepodge of services. And the Help Network of Northeast Ohio provides services ranging from crisis intervention to some 36 support groups in the Valley for survivors of suicide.
In the public sector, multi-pronged cooperative strategies among local, state and federal health agencies can go a long way toward making a dent in our out-of-control suicide rates. Such strategies have been working at long last to begin to lower the death toll from the nation’s opiate epidemic.
But even though the deaths of Spade and Bourdain helped place a needed focus on suicide, let us not forget that, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one American dies by his or own hand every 12.3 minutes and that Americans attempt suicide an estimated 1,100,000 times each year.
That chilling data alone should spur this nation to concerted long-term and goal-oriented action. Clearly, we needn’t wait for yet another celebrity or loved one to self-destruct before launching a sustained and aggressive campaign to repel suicide and its many complex triggers.