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Suicide now kills more people than car wrecks

September 21, 2012

A troubling finding out this week in the American Journal of Public Health.The article, “Leading Causes of Unintentional and Intentional Injury Mortality: United States, 2000-2009,” by Ian R. H. Rockett, et al., looked at data from the National Center for Health Statistics on all kinds of intentional and accidental  injury-related deaths, and in particular at five causes: suicide, car accidents, homicide, poisoning, and falls. Here’s what they found:

A global public health problem, suicide has emerged as the leading cause of total unintentional and intentional injury mortality in the United States, followed by motor vehicle traffic crashes, poisoning, falls, and homicide. Our finding that suicide now accounts for more deaths than do traffic crashes echoes similar findings for the European Union, Canada, and China.

Deaths from suicides, poisoning (especially from prescription opioids), and falls rose substantially over the past decade. (In fact, the CDC found recently that painkiller overdoses have exceeded the combined number of heroin and cocaine overdoses). And while the number of deaths from suicide has not climbed as dramatically as the number of deaths by accidental poisoning (read: overdose), suicide is now killing more people than car accidents.

And, while Rhode Island’s rate is just slightly behind the national rate, it’s been climbing steadily and may be on trend to catch up. Why? One reason is mental illness – especially depression. My predecessor blogged about RI’s high rate of mental illness. The American Association of Suicidology tracks the latest research and statistics on suicide and has this fact sheet about the link between suicide and depression. It may seem painfully obvious, but depressed people are much more likely to attempt suicide. What’s less obvious is how many of those people had been going untreated, or even stopped taking medication. If you suffer from depression and something else, like drug and/or alcohol addiction, your suicide risk is even higher.

So, what’s to be done? The good news: suicide is, of course, totally preventable. And depression and addiction are treatable. Awareness of those facts might help: the authors of the journal article suggest a massive public health campaign, much like we had for seat belts and drunk driving. And here are some tips on suicide-proofing your home if you have teenagers.

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