The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recently released a startling report(PDF) showing a 30 percent increase in suicides from 2011. Nationwide, the number of deaths by suicide surpassed the number of deaths by motor vehicle accidents in 2009, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided data.
The Wichita Eagle reports that the largest increase in suicides in Kansas occurred among white males, who already were the segment of the population most likely to take their own lives. More than 80 percent of suicides in Kansas last year were men, like Scott Dennis, a 42-year-old fitness company owner.
Last year, Dennis was busy getting ready for an industry convention in Las Vegas.
Dennis had already paid for a $20,000 sponsored dinner, booked his flight, hotel and rental car and sent out some work e-mails.
He showered and shaved. He packed his bag.
“He wrote a note that said, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’ and left his wallet and his watch on his desk, drove to Wal-Mart down the street and shot himself in the chest,” said Brook Phillips, a friend of Dennis for 35 years.
Nationally, the CDC reported a spike in suicide rates in 2010 among the middle-aged, a 28 percent rise overall, a 40 percent jump among white Americans, and among men in their 50s, suicides increased by more than 48 percent. Guns remained the leading method used in all suicides, followed by poisoning, overdoses, and suffocation.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC told PBS: “We don’t know what specifically is causing [the suicide spike], but the trend has been consistent, and if anything our numbers would underestimate the gravity of the problem.”
Frieden also commented that more people die from prescription opiates today than from heroin and cocaine combined, and called alcohol a “significant contributor to depression and to mental health problems.”
But many people consume opiates and alcohol to self-medicate, or to escape their dire economic circumstances. One popular theory floated to explain the suicide epidemic is that the recession has caused emotional trauma in individuals.
Pat Smith, the violence-prevention program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health, told The Huffington Post the recession may have pushed already troubled people over the edge. Being unable to find a job or settling for one with lower pay or prestige could add “that final weight to a whole chain of events,” she said.