Where are the highest rates of suicide in the United States? Is it in busy cities or pristine rural areas? The answer may surprise you.
The statistics are disturbing. According to data from the World Health Organization, a person commits suicide every forty seconds – and suicide is the tenth most common cause of death worldwide. It might seem that suicide rates in the United States would be higher in densely populated, metropolitan areas due to overcrowding and the stress of fast paced city life. According to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, the opposite is true. Suicide rates in the United States are actually highest in rural areas of the country – not urban ones.
The Problem of Higher Rates of Suicide in Rural Areas
Surprisingly, the state with the highest rate of suicide in the United States is Alaska with 23 suicide related deaths per 100,000 people, despite having a population density of only 1.2 people per square mile. At the other end of the spectrum, the District of Columbia with 9,316 people per square mile, had the lower suicide rate in the United States at 5.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Why would this be?
Why Are Rates of Suicide Higher in Rural Areas?
Researchers believe the higher rate of suicide in rural areas is due to a lack of mental health workers in less densely populated areas of the country. This same study showed that suicide rates in the United States are lowest in areas where the most social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other types of mental health counselors are clustered – usually in densely populated cities.
There’s also the issue of wealth distribution. Poverty is a problem in less densely populated areas. People choose to take their own life when they feel a sense of hopelessness, which is more common in areas where poverty rates are the highest. Social isolation is also more frequent in less densely populated areas, which is another contributing factor to suicide. Other risk factors for suicide include mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, male sex, older age, and past attempts at suicide.
Another contributing factor to the high rate of suicide in rural areas is the easy availability of guns. An article in the New York Times points out that people living in rural areas of the country usually own guns and have an independent spirit that makes them reluctant to seek out counseling for stress-related issues and depression, even when those services are available. Instead, they’re more likely to reach for their Smith and Wesson revolver.
How Can These High Rates of Suicide Be Reduced?
Doctors in rural areas need to be attuned to the mental health needs of patients due to the lack of availability of mental health counselors and the fact that rural dwellers are more likely to seek out a physician to discuss their mental health issues rather than a counselor.
Depression is a tough mental health issue for anyone to deal with – particularly those living in isolated, rural areas. Hopefully, more resources will come available for rural dwellers to get the help they need when mental health issues become a problem – because even one suicide in this country is one too many.
Family Practice News. June 15, 2010. page 36.