News and Commentary

U.S. Suicide Rate Highest In 50 Years, Driving Down Life Expectancy Rate

America will have to curtail its escalating suicide rate if it ever hopes to become truly great again.

According to the Associated Press, the suicide rate in America has reached a 50-year peak. In 2017, the United States had 2.8 million deaths, a full 70,000 more than the previous year. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the spike somewhat reflects the aging population, it’s the spike in younger age groups that raises the most concern.

“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said in a statement.

In 2017, there were 47,000 suicides in the United States. In 2016, there were 45,000. The numbers keep climbing, contributing to a decline in the overall life expectancy rate, which began to fall in 2015 and 2017 after several decades of escalation. It has not seen such a dip since the late 1910’s, when World War I and the worst flu epidemic claimed one million lives. Back then, the life expectancy was 39 years. The life expectancy now stands at 78.6 years, down one-tenth from last year.

“We’ve never really seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.

Of the 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer rate fell in 2017, while increases were observed in suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries.

Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, says the rising death rate stems from a sense of hopelessness among Americans. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.

The death rate for drug overdoses rose about 10% in 2017. Accidental overdoses account for more than a third of unintentional injury deaths while intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides.

While numerous factors contribute to the spike in suicide rates, a recent study from the University of Michigan showed that the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which focuses on teen suicide, increases the risk of suicide among teens. More from Buzzfeed:

The research, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, surveyed 87 teenagers who were being treated in psychiatric emergency departments for suicide-related concerns in 2017 and 2018.

The teenagers, the majority female, were asked to complete a questionnaire during their emergency department visit.

Nearly half (49%) of the teenagers had watched at least one episode of the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and 84% of those had watched it alone.

Over half of the viewers believed that watching the show had increased their risk of suicide due to their identification with the lead female character, Hannah Baker, who kills herself at the beginning of the series after recording tapes detailing the reasons for her decision and the characters who she blames.

Teenagers with more depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation were more likely to report that they identified with Hannah and reported negative emotions while viewing the show.

The authors concluded that while further research is needed to assess the dangers of the show, “the findings suggest a particular vulnerability to the show’s themes among youths at risk of suicide,” and that steps are needed to be taken to ameliorate those problems.

Of course, none of that suggests “13 Reasons Why” is responsible for the spike in suicide rates, but it does reflect a culture that does not take the presence of it seriously enough.