Why can’t we do more about suicide?

The child of a friend took his own life. I do not think my friend has stopped weeping since it happened. I’ll be an epidemiologist for a moment, then allow me to ventilate some grief.

Here’s the recent history of deaths by suicide in the US and Canada.*

Rates from the US National Vital Statistics System and from Statistics Canada.

Age-adjusted deaths by suicide in the US have risen steadily from 1999 to 2014, with an increase of 21% over the period. There were roughly 43,000 suicides in 2014, so there would have been perhaps 7,000 fewer deaths had US rates not risen. This is one of the statistics that led Anne Case and Angus Deaton to raise alarms about increases in “deaths of despair” in the United States. Suicides do not seem to have increased in Canada, but I could only find recent data.

But you know what? Just today I am not worried about the increase. The US rate in 1999 and the Canadian rate today were already much higher than they should be. Why do we ever lose someone in their 20s? I’m furious, with my profession most of all, that we haven’t come up with or disseminated more effective ways to prevent suicides.

*Yes, I truncated the Y-axis at 5 instead of 0 to make the US increase more visually dramatic. Fucking sue me.


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