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EDITORIAL: Treat suicide as a public health issue

The Citizens' Voice - 6/11/2018

June 11--Handbag designer Kate Spade's suicide this week drew attention to a growing national tragedy that otherwise doesn't spur much public response.

The suicide rate in the United States has soared over the last 20 years, but the public response to it remains stagnant.

According to a report last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national suicide rate increased by 30 percent between 1999 and 2016. The rate increased in 44 states, and by at least 30 percent in 25 states. Nationally, the rate increased from 13.2 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 19.2 per 100,000 in 2016.

Public policy toward suicide, the CDC noted, is based on the premise that it is a mental health issue, even though 54 percent of decedents in a separate CDC analysis of 27 states in 2015 had no known mental health condition before committing suicide. And, the report said, sociologists long ago concluded that suicide cannot be attributed to one factor yet public policy flows along a single track -- mental health.

Governments should follow the CDC recommendation to treat suicide as a broad-based public health issue, given that nearly 45,000 Americans took their own lives in 2016, more than twice the nearly 20,000 who were murdered.

Since guns are the leading means of suicide, used by more than 48 percent of victims, better gun safety laws likely would diminish the rate, as would more effective drug enforcement to reduce deliberate overdoses.

But broadly, the CDC clearly is right about the context of the problem. The federal and state governments must approach suicide as a public health emergency that includes but is not limited to mental health policy.


(c)2018 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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