Minnesota's suicide rate up 40 percent since 1999

Minnesota's suicide rate still ranks in the bottom half of the United States, though it's increasing faster than all but seven.

Minnesota's suicide rate still ranks in the bottom half of the United States, though it's increasing faster than all but seven. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Anthony Bourdain's suicide came within 72 hours of Kate Spade's. 

The self-inflicted deaths of an acclaimed chef, writer, and TV host and one of America's foremost fashion designers will likely lead to discussion of the pressures of celebrity and success. In another way, their suicides contribute to a body of statistics indicating suicide has become increasingly and disturbingly common among all Americans. 

Death by suicide is up 25 percent across the United States between 1999 and 2016, when 45,000 Americans ended their own lives, according to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study published today. Few places are left out of the trend: Suicide became more common in 44 states, and half the states saw increases of more than 30 percent, including Minnesota.

At the turn of the century, Minnesota's annual suicide rate was just under 11 per 100,000 people aged 10 or over, with a male suicide rate of 18.3, and female at 3.6. (Men typically commit suicide at significantly higher rates than women; nationally, men currently commit suicide more than three times as often as women.) 

Suicide rates for both sexes climbed steadily in the years that followed, hitting a rate of 23.3 for men during 2014-16 (an increase of 27 percent), while women's rate of suicide nearly doubled, to 6.9. Combined, Minnesota's rate grew to 15 suicides per 100,000 residents.

That figure still ranks only 38th among states, but the state's 40 percent increase since 1999 was the eighth-steepest rise. Two Minnesota neighbors -- North Dakota and South Dakota -- saw even greater increases, as did New Hampshire, Kansas, Vermont, and Idaho. 

Montana had the highest suicide rate of any state during 2014-16, at 29.2, almost twice as much as Minnesota's. At 28.8, Arkansas had the second-highest rate, followed by Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

Densely populated East Coast territories tended to have the lowest rates: Washington, D.C. had the lowest measured, at 6.9 suicides per 100,000, followed by New Jersey, New York, Massachussets, Maryland, Connecitcut, and California. 

Gunshot was easily the most common method of committing suicide, especially among those without any documented mental health issues, who used firearms more than half the time.

Though the CDC authors acknowledge there is rarely one root cause of a suicide, there are public health steps states could take to lessen the known risk factors. (One suggestion: maybe don't de-fund your suicide hotline, as Minnesota did this year.) 

As one section of the report reads (emphasis ours): 

Prevention strategies include strengthening economic supports (e.g., housing stabilization policies, household financial support); teaching coping and problem-solving skills to manage everyday stressors and prevent future relationship problems, especially early in life; promoting social connectedness to increase a sense of belonging and access to informational, tangible, emotional, and social support; and identifying and better supporting persons at risk (e.g., military veterans, persons with physical/mental health conditions) (12). Other strategies include creating protective environments (e.g., reducing access to lethal means among persons at risk for suicide, creating organizational and workplace policies to promote help-seeking, easing transitions into and out of work for persons with mental health conditions and other life challenges), strengthening access to and delivery of care, supporting family and friends after a suicide, and encouraging the media to follow safe reporting recommendation.

Some of those steps sound complex, most sound expensive, and all of them sound a little uncomfortable. The situation leaves us little choice. A public health crisis is upon us, in Minnesota and most other American states, and it's the one we usually won't talk about until it's too late.

Click here to read the Minnesota Department of Health's list of warning signs to watch for in a potentially suicidal person, plus a list of tips to help them or yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK); it's free, and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.