The suicide rate in Minnesota jumped 40.6 percent over 18 years, part of a nationwide trend that saw increases in all but one state and prompted public health officials to urge people to get help when facing a crisis.
The findings, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirm what Minnesota officials had already been tracking. Between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates in Minnesota increased across age, sex and racial groups, but lately the rates have been going up the most in rural parts of the state.
In 2016, there were 745 suicides in Minnesota, continuing a trend that began after 2010 when the number of suicides was 606.
In response, the Minnesota Health Department has increased efforts to identify at-risk communities and enroll community organizations, such as schools and health care providers, in efforts to reach out to those who need help.
“Recovery is possible and suicide is preventable,” said Melissa Heinen, a suicide epidemiologist at the Health Department. “We know getting treatment and reaching out is effective.”
Under a $3.6 million federal grant, the Health Department recently partnered with 16 organizations in five regions of the state to reduce the number of suicides among young people ages 10 to 24, where suicides have become the second leading cause of death.
The suicide rate for that age group is also above the national average, although as a state Minnesota is still below average.
Heinen said that despite the increase in suicides, as well as the intense media coverage this week of the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade, there are many community resources available to those who are considering harming themselves.
“There are people to help you through a difficult crisis period,” Heinen said.
Studies have documented that suicides can have a contagion effect, meaning that some people will attempt suicide if they know of others who killed themselves, such as a family member, classmate or a celebrity. Part of the community response, Heinen said, is to intervene and connect with at-risk individuals and help show them that there are other options.
“What we don’t hear in the media is how many people called the suicide hotline, got help and now are thriving,” she said.
‘Public health problem’
High suicide numbers in the United States are not a new phenomenon. In 1999, then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report on the state of mental health in America and called suicide “a significant public health problem.” At that time, there were about 30,000 suicides a year.
Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th leading cause of death. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
The most common method used was firearms.
“The data are disturbing,” said Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director. “The widespread nature of the increase, in every state but one, really suggests that this is a national problem hitting most communities.”
It is hitting many places especially hard. In half the states, suicide among people 10 years and older increased more than 30 percent.
“At what point is it a crisis?” asked Nadine Kaslow, a past president of the American Psychological Association. “Suicide is a public health crisis when you look at the numbers, and they keep going up. It’s up everywhere. And we know that the rates are actually higher than what’s reported. But homicides still get more attention.”
Kaslow is particularly concerned about what’s emerged with suicide among women.
“Historically, men had higher death rates than women,” she noted. “That’s equalizing not because men are [taking their lives] less, but women are doing it more. That is very, very troublesome.”
Among the stark numbers in the CDC report was the one signaling a high number of suicides among people without a known mental health condition.
Too many not getting help
But Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said that statistic must be viewed in context.
“When you do a psychological autopsy and go and look carefully at medical records and talk to family members of the victims,” he said, “90 percent will have evidence of a mental health condition.” That indicates a large portion weren’t diagnosed, “which suggests to me that they’re not getting the help they need,” he said.
The problems most frequently associated with suicide, according to the study, are strained relationships; life stressors, often involving work or finances; and recent or impending crises. The most important takeaway, mental health professionals say, is that suicide is not only an issue for those with mental illness but also for anyone struggling with serious life challenges.
“I think this gets back to what do we need to be teaching people — how to manage breakups, job stresses,” said Christine Moutier, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “What are we doing as a nation to help people to manage these things? Because anybody can experience those stresses. Anybody.”
“If you think of [suicide] as other leading causes of death, like AIDS and cancer, with the public health approach, mortality rates decline,” Moutier said. “We know that same approach can work with suicide.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.