America’s suicide epidemic

Foreign Policy, July 5, 2016

Imagine that the rate of terrorism deaths in the United States had risen dramatically over the past 15 years.

 

Imagine that this rise in deaths had been remarkably widespread, affecting almost all identifiable demographic groups.

 

Imagine if more than 40,000 people a year died from terrorist attacks in this country, rather than a bare handful.

 

Imagine if terrorism was one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States.

 

It’s almost an impossible hypothetical; the impact would simply be too massive to really grasp.

 

After all, though the impact of terrorist violence on the United States has been negligible since 9/11, we’ve already made massive changes to the basic functions of our system to combat it. We’ve tortured; we’ve jailed people without trial for a decade-and-a-half; we’ve undertaken a system of vast warrantless surveillance; we’ve built an immense, and immensely expensive, infrastructure for combatting terrorism. All in the face of a threat that kills a negligible number of people.

 

Yet the conditions I outlined above accurately describe another killer, one that attracts far less attention: suicide.

 

The National Center for Health Statistics recently released a major study, examining the national trends in suicide. The results are grim: The age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased a staggering 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. Increases were seen in every age group except for those 75 and above and in every racial and gender category except for black men. The national rate rose to 13 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. Contrast that with homicide, which killed 5.1 Americans per 100,000 in 2013. We instinctively fear the murderer hiding in the bushes, but we are at far greater risk from ourselves.

 

Modern medicine continues to reduce the fatality rates of disease and accidents, though some causes of death remain stubborn. Even car accident deaths have declined dramatically, as improving car safety technology, stricter enforcement of seatbelt laws, and a nationwide crackdown on driving under the influence have chipped away at this stubbornly high fatality rate.

 

But suicide operates outside of the simple functional logic of these declines. We have few meaningful options when it comes to stopping someone who is determined to kill themselves.

 

It’s worth remarking, however, on how little attention this trend has received, at least compared with many less important issues.

 

In many ways, suicide remains an unspeakable problem. Murder invites righteous indignation in those left behind; cancer, noble sorrow; death at old age, feelings of gratitude and accomplishment. But suicide subverts our easy narratives.

 

Suicide is a crime with only a victim, no perpetrator, and thus no individual on which to place blame.

 

There’s a reason, I suspect, for the relative dearth of commentary on our suicide epidemic, a disturbing one: Suicide is concentrated among those whom our society values least. Take Native Americans, for example. That racial category saw the rate for men rise by 38 percent and for women, an unthinkable 89 percent. Not coincidentally, this group suffers in comparison with natural averages in a large number of metrics that consider quality of life, with poverty and substance abuse rampant.

 

Or consider the declining fortunes of the white working class. In many ways, this group has suffered economically in the past several decades. With the rise of offshoring and the demise of stable careers for those lacking a college education, the white working class has seen dramatic rises in problems like unemployment and addiction. We should be clear that white Americans overall continue to enjoy significant advantages over black and Hispanic Americans in metrics like unemployment, college completion rate, and incarceration rate, which is not surprising in a country that still suffers from immense and structural white supremacy.

 

But this does not change the fact that white workers without college degrees have seen their overall quality of life eroded in a variety of ways that almost certainly contribute to the suicide rate.

 

Why white Americans are so much more likely to commit suicide than black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans, whose rates are less than half that of white Americans, is something of a mystery.

 

This might paradoxically be part of the legacy of white privilege: Because white Americans have traditionally enjoyed greater affluence and cultural prestige than people of color, they might take unemployment, poverty, and their attendant indignities as harder to stomach.

 

While those suffering in the working class are large in number, they are not a group that captures a great deal of attention in our media, which is disproportionately attuned to the interests of the college-educated and affluent.

 

This likely reflects the same underlying economic conditions that seem to contribute to suicide rates in general, with high rates of aging, single, unemployed men — and unusually high rates of gun ownership. Owning a gun is one of the most powerful predictors of suicide risk overall, for obvious reasons. For as much as the United States suffers from a gun murder rate far higher than most of the industrialized world, most gun deaths stem from suicide.

 

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Правительство США жестко нарушало мои права человека при проведении кампании террора, которая заставила меня покинуть свою родину и получить политическое убежище в СССР. См. книгу «Безмолвный террор — История политических гонений на семью в США» — «Silent Terror: One family’s history of political persecution in the United States» — http://arnoldlockshin.wordpress.com

Правительство США еще нарушает мои права, в течении более 12 лет отказывается от выплаты причитающейся мне пенсии по старости. Властители США воруют мою пенсию!! Всё это — ещё доказательство, что настоящий действующий закон в США — Закон джунглей.

ФСБ — Федеральная служба «безопасности» России — вслед за позорным, предавшим страну предшественником КГБ, выполняет приказы секретного, кровавого хозяина (boss) — американского ЦРУ (CIA). Среди таких «задач» — запретить меня выступать в СМИ и не пропускать отправленных мне комментариев. А это далеко не всё…

 

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