Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Hidden Geography of America's Surging Suicide Rate

You probably saw the headlines late last week: suicides among middle-aged Americans appear to have surged over the past decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found the suicide rate for people aged 35 to 64 jumped 28 percent between 1999 and 2010, a troubling development by any measure. This means more Americans now die of suicide than of car accidents.

Given the nation's recent economic history, it's understandable that everyone is looking to define the relationship between suicides and the recession. The CDC report itself cites several studies that point to a connection between the two.

The chart above shows the 10 states with the most significant increases in their suicide rates from 1999 to 2010, based on data from the CDC report. Wyoming tops the list with an increase of nearly 80 percent. North Dakota is second and Rhode Island third, both with increases of roughly 70 percent. Hawaii, Vermont, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Oregon, and South Dakota round out the top 10. 

While much has been made of the connection between rising suicide and the economic crisis, many, if not most, of the states on this list have had relatively stable economies over the course of the crisis and recovery. The Dakotas have been held out as examples of economic stability and growth throughout the crisis. Indiana is the only Rust Belt state to make the top 10 list — Michigan and other hard-hit industrial states are curiously absent. None of the Sun Belt states that were devastated by the housing crisis — Arizona, Florida, or Nevada — are among the top 10 either. Also curiously absent are high-priced, allegedly high-stress East and West Coast states such as New York or California, while more "laid back" states — Hawaii, Vermont, Oregon, and Idaho as well as Plains states — dominate the top 10 for highest increases in suicide rates.

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