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Suicide rates over time and space

Brendan Koerner:

Despite all we've learned about human psychology over the past several decades, we seem unable to make much of a dent in America's overall suicide rate, which has remained remarkably stable over the past half-century. In fact, the rate of suicide attempts seems to have gone up over that time period; the rate of successful attempts has most likely held steady due to advances in emergency-room medicine. (Sparsely populated states such as Montana often have high suicide rates because people live so far from ERs.)

So, aside from offering psychological intervention at the right time, what's the best strategy for helping people who are sorely tempted to take their own lives? Historically, the greatest declines in suicide rates have come about due to changes in the availability of methods.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 20, 2010; 10:12 AM ET
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Historically, the greatest declines in suicide rates have come about due to changes in the availability of methods.

This should be put on a bumper sticker:
People don't kill themselves, guns do
No, that's not quite right.
Guns don't kill other people, just yourself
Hm, still needs work.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 20, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

i'm going to quibble with the reasoning on suicide rates in montana - huge percentages of the population don't in fact live far from ER's. the state as a whole is highly urbanized, in the same way that australia is.

i would suggest, being a montana native, that the high success rates can be directly attributed to the high rates of gun ownership. all the advanced medical technologies in the world don't win out over shotguns.

Posted by: trishka_cvo | July 20, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Why shouldn't people who are suffering so much that they feel their lives are no longer worth living be allowed to take their own lives? Death is incredibly personal, and if counseling services are offered and provided, the individual should ultimately be allowed to make the final decision.

Posted by: madjoy | July 20, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to quibble a little on Montana's population. I agree presence of firearms correlates with high suicide rates, but access to trauma care may have something to do with the death rate.

About half Montana's population lives in rural areas. More to the point, only 4 counties in Montana are Metropolitan. 2/3 of the population lives in non-metro counties. There are zero Level I trauma centers in Montana. There are only 3 level II trauma centers in the whole state and they're all located in either Billings or Missoula. The level of care isn't going to be as effective as it would if you lived in say, Dallas.

Posted by: steveh46 | July 20, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"what's the best strategy for helping people who are sorely tempted to take their own lives? "

i dont know that there is "a strategy."
people need to feel connected. they need to feel loved.
they need to feel that their life, their thoughts, their feelings count for something.
i worked for years on a suicide hotline, and the very wise director of our line, always said, "loneliness is the worst disease, the greatest killer."
loneliness, psychic pain, a broken heart, not feeling needed, withdrawing from the world and feeling that your presence doesnt make a difference....that you are a burden to others...leads to the feeling that the world would be better off without you.
mental illness that isolates people, economic struggles that become so overwhelming....lives that just cant seem to be improved.....and where people feel undefended, unsupported...and just unloved.
i am completely convinced that the most important thing is to feel loved by someone or something.
now i live in a retirement community.
when there are days of rain, people here always said, "i just cant be in the house so long."
the need for connection, for laughter, for love, for the human touch is the most important thing in the world.

"to the world you are just one person,
to one person, you are the whole world."

everyone needs that one being.
even if it is a little dog, or a cat.....
anything that you can love,
that loves you back
may the angels comfort all those who suffer in silence.

Posted by: jkaren | July 20, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The best strategy would be putting lithium in the water.

Posted by: yoyoy | July 20, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"Historically, the greatest declines in suicide rates have come about due to changes in the availability of methods."

i dunno about that -- if someone REALLY wants to commit suicide, it isn't that hard.

Posted by: jeeze56 | July 20, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Gah! We can't conclude anything about ER availability unless we also know the number of suicide *attempts* in Montana. Koerner's making an assumption that the percentage of suicide attempts who succeed is higher in Montana than elsewhere, and we can't conclude that just from the absolute number of suicides.

Note too that Koerner concludes that high gun ownership is linked to a high suicide rate, but then also points out that Montana has a really low homicide rate. I guess we can conclude from that lots of legal gun ownership leads to low homicide. Nice to see you supporting the Second Amendment, Ezra.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 21, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

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