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Dramatic Rise in Suicide Rates Especially Among Men 45-64


The National Center for Health Statistics has released a report indicating that the suicide rate in the US is at a thirty-year high.  The greatest increase has been among less-educated men aged 45 to 64 but other rates have increased as well.  The suicide rate among girls 10-14, among the lowest of all groups, has tripled in the last fifteen years.  The rates of suicide among both men and women over 75 has gone down, but all other rates have gone up.  Another change in suicides of potential significance is that the use of firearms and poisons has gone down, with the rate of suffocation (including hanging) has gone up.  Suffocation suicides are most often seen in people who have very few ways to kill themselves.

The history of suicide in the US has shown that, for example, during the Depression, when many people were impoverished, suicide rates went up.  As the economy improved, suicide rates went down.  Suicide rates among children were very low but increased significantly during the 80’s and 90’s.  Suicide rates among the elderly were the highest of any age group in 1950 but have decreased by half since then; rates had increased progressively from age 45 on up but now have leveled off.  Now the rates among those 45-54 are the highest of any age group, at 19.6 per hundred thousand population.  By comparison, in 1950, 31.1 per hundred thousand people between 75 and 84 succeeded at suicide, the highest rate of any age group.

Women generally have had much lower suicide rates than men as long as statistics have been kept.  Women tend to threaten or ineffectively attempt suicide more often than men, but less often succeed.  Rates among women increased somewhat between 1950 and 1970 but then declined to a baseline of about 5 per hundred thousand, which has remained little changed through 2014.  The shocker has been a tripling of death rates among girls aged 10-14 by suicide, from 0.5 to 1.5 per hundred thousand; the rate among men has little changed, from 1.9 to 2.6.

Social Security and particularly Medicare have reduced the suicide rates among those over 65 during the past 50 years.  Of most concern now is the rise in suicides among middle-aged adults, mostly men, and the increases among the very young.  The increased rates among the middle-aged are probably related to the economic damage inflicted by the Great Recession of 2007-8; they are part of the same phenomenon as the increase in opioids and heroin use and overdoses.  Increases in suicides among children may be related to the increase in autism that has been seen during this same period of time.

It turns out that autism is a very potent risk factor for suicide, but it may not explain the increase in risk among girls because autism is so much more common in boys.   Wikipedia’s article on suicide states that there is at least a 10 fold increase and possibly as much as 28 times the incidence of suicide among those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.  It is little appreciated that autistics are very prone to depression and abuse by their peers, and this is vividly reflected in their suicide rates.  With the incredible increases in autism rates of the past fifty years, it is possible that suicide rates in children are reflecting that in part, but the increase in young girls is mysterious.

Suicide rates vary dramatically according to one’s state of residence.  Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska have the highest rates; while Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey along with the District of Columbia have the lowest rates.  The states with the lowest population density seem to have unusually high rates of suicides, while those with high population density have lower rates.  There may be other factors, but population density seems to be the most significant.

My prescription for reducing suicide rates: make our society (in the US, not the rest of the world) less stressful:

What is needed now is “Medicare for all” and maybe even “Social Security for all.”   Medicare needs to be upgraded to cover all the deductibles and copays, to get rid of the Medicare supplement industry that has been fleecing Americans since Medicare was implemented.   The cost of medicine is so high now that no-one who is not already rich can afford to pay even twenty percent of their hospital bills.  Yet insurance companies are doing extremely well taking in over twenty percent of the bill as their fee for deciding who is eligible for insurance and who is not, whether the procedures and drugs ordered by the doctor are acceptable or not, and what tests can be performed on which patients.  Insurance companies are parasites on the health industry.

To improve government revenues, we need full employment, and to get full employment we have to match everyone who can work to a job that he or she can do.  This means a giant, comprehensive jobs bureau that has the authority and means to create jobs by finding things that have been left undone and things that need to be improved.  That doesn’t mean “make-work” jobs, it means looking critically at our infrastructure and our way of living and trying to find problems that could be solved by the application of elbow-grease or burning some midnight oil, to use a figure of speech.

Having the federal government accept (albeit reluctantly) the burden of insuring the welfare of all US citizens would inexorably lead to the finally effective effort to find full-time employment for everyone.  Whether that employment comes as a result of private sector jobs or public works really doesn’t matter; the point of having any job is to produce income that will sustain the economy by being used to buy things rather than to save.

Given the mandate to match every working American with a job, a jobs bureau could work miracles with the unemployment rate and bring people back into the job market who had given up on trying.  A matching service could be created to have the flexibility to match unusual jobs with unusual job requirements.  Job satisfaction would be greatly increased because each individual could be set up with the kind of job that most closely matches their abilities and inclinations.

Putting everyone to work will increase the Gross Domestic Product out of proportion to the population by obtaining more productivity with job matching.  Suicide rates are already known to go down with improving income and job status.

Having a job for everyone means no-one will have time to lounge around on street corners.  At the same time, everyone will have sufficient money to buy at least a basic menu of nutritious food, wear an acceptable garment, and live in a decent home.  No-one will be longing for a job and suffering for lack of basic needs.  More importantly, suicide rates will go down because people will not have the leisure to sit around and brood nor the desperation born of poverty.

That brings me to taxation.  We should abolish sales tax for two reasons: first, sales taxes are regressive, and second, they are too complicated and a burden on the small retailer.  We should replace the sales tax with a truly progressive income tax that is adjusted so that the federal government can take in enough money to pay for the operations that it has already undertaken and for the infrastructure maintenance required to keep its public spaces (highways, buildings, parks, etc.) in good condition.  

To a very rough estimate, the costs come to about 20% of the current Gross Domestic Product.  This percentage was that which sustained the government back in the  50’s; today we take in much less than that every year in taxes and yet extremists claim we are over-taxed.  We only feel over-taxed because the wrong people are feeling the pinch.  Taxes should be carefully allocated to those who can afford to pay, not to those with the least political clout.

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