Geography of Suicide: A Look at the CDC’s Recent Report

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Suicide is becoming an increasingly prevalent epidemic across the United States. On June 7th, the CDC released a geographic report that general suicide rates are up 30 percent from 1999. Individual states – particularly those in Central and Northern regions – have seen even larger growth in this epidemic, with North and South Dakota seeing 57.6 and 44.5 percent increases respectively.

The study pertaining to the intersection of geographic location and suicide isn’t a new phenomenon. But these recent findings are, and by extension, worth researching for a potential projection into the future, regarding distinct common features between states seeing the highest increases.

In May of 2013, the website CityLab released an article that noted a 28 percent growth from 1999, pointing at a potential relation with 2008’s Great Recession. They speculated a possible correlation with lenient gun laws, documenting that 60 percent of deaths by firearm in 2010 were filed as suicides.

In this piece we find that the states seeing the highest increase are – as in the most recent study by the CDC – towards the Central and Northern regions of the country. But while these are the areas with the greatest incline, it’s sufficing to say that the geography behind suicide is becoming a nationwide issue, wherein the focus can’t simply stay on a particular locale.

Partnering the CDC’s geographic and demographic data, we see a picture starting to emerge regarding potential societal expectations and the overarching impact of mental health stigma. Of documented suicides wherein the individual had no diagnosed mental illness, 84 percent were male, with the most frequent method used being firearms. Though men are speculated to experience mental health disorders at a similar frequency to women, they seem to seek out help less often.

Depression, specifically, varies in its range as documented by the National Institute of Mental Health. Its causes and symptoms are equally as diverse, though men tend towards withdrawing rather than looking for psychiatric help. A 2014 study by the American Journal of Psychiatry also noted that they experience unique risk factors, having their depression linked more closely to troubles regarding their work and financial status.

Source: CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, data from 27 states participating in 2015.
Source: CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, data from 27 states participating in 2015.

It is no large presumption to note the correlation between male suicide rates, under diagnosis of mental health issues, and the impact of societal and therefore internalized expectations of masculinity. Essentially, we’re pressuring men to seek out help at far lesser rates. The American Psychological Association’s podcast provides a unique perspective on this.

But a study released in the Journal of Counseling Psychology finds that it’s not simply “masculinity” that is an issue for men and mental health, but aggressive principles than are often imposed on them – such as the expectation to be competitive, to value work above social connection, and to not express a wide range of emotions.

Source: CDC's National Vital Statistics System Survey, June 2018
Source: CDC’s National Vital Statistics System Survey, June 2018

Looking once again at the CDC’s study and the aforementioned Central and North concentrations of increase, it is possible we’re seeing this particular issue in action. Areas with fewer metropolitan areas – such as North and South Dakota – lessen the potential for a diverse social network. In tandem, this brews a stronger prevalence of conservative ideology – thus, more pernicious expectations of masculinity.

While not all encompassing of all suicides in the United States, this large demographic is one that needs to be examined. If we lessen the toxicity of rigid gendered structures in rural society, it will not only increase tolerance, but save the lives of men in these regions.

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