Americans are increasingly likely to die by their own hand. In 1999, about 29,000 people in the U.S. killed themselves. By 2017, the toll had grown to more than 47,000, a significant rise even when adjusted for the growing population.
The deaths of two teenage survivors of the Parkland, Fl., school shooting and the father of a girl killed in Newtown, Ct., in 2012 have shocked the nation.
These deaths provide an opportunity to confront a national public health crisis, the Washington Post reports. Researchers who study suicide say the field is grossly underfunded. They have minimal understanding of who, exactly, is most at risk of suicide. The basic question raised in recent days — what is the link between surviving extreme trauma and the subsequent risk for self-harm — is not readily answered.
Eric Caine, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center, notes that “the vast, vast majority of abused, traumatized folks don’t kill themselves.” For people who are suffering, that help is available at the suicide hotline 800-273-TALK). Support networks — friends, family members, professionals — need to stay vigilant.
“In the second year [after a mass shooting], friends and family are no longer checking on you as much. The first year, you may have distracted yourself or taken on other things to move forward, but you get fatigued over time. That comes at a price and you can’t always sustain it as well,” said David Schonfeld of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California.
Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S. and the second most common among teenagers and young adults. The death rate from suicide is rising broadly, among almost all demographic groups. One theory for the rise in suicides is that it has lost some of its cultural stigma.
A significant factor in the high U.S. total is the ready availability of guns. “Most of the folks who die by suicide in America die by firearms,” said Michael Anestis of the University of Southern Mississippi psychology faculty. The Parkland students reportedly died by gunfire. It was originally reported that the Newtown father died by a gunshot but the police department later said his death did not involve a firearm.