Suicide in the United States
Suicide is a widespread social problem that occurs in all human societies. In the United States in 2000, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death. The total number of suicides was 29,350, or 1.2 percent of all deaths. In 2001, the figure was 30,622. Suicide is more common than murder. The problem goes even deeper than the statistics state, since it is estimated that for every death by suicide, there may be from eight to twenty-five attempted suicides. Risk factors for suicide vary. More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves suffer from depression or some other mental disorder or from substance abuse. Suicide as well as depression are associated with lower levels of a brain chemical called serotonin. Medication aimed at relieving depression boosts serotonin levels.
Depression and suicide may also be a response to adverse and stressful life events, such as loss of a job or spouse, although experts point out that suicide is not a normal response to stressful situations. Suicide may happen when the pain the person is experiencing overwhelms the coping strategies and resources they have for dealing with it.
Other risk factors for suicide include a family history of mental disorder or substance abuse; family history of suicide; family violence, including physical or sexual abuse; firearms in the home; incarceration; and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including family members and peers.
Suicide is more common among men than women. In the United States in 2000, suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for males and the nineteenth leading cause of death for females. More than four times as many men as women die by suicide, although women report attempting suicide about three times as often as men.
Suicide is more common among whites than other racial groups. In 2000, white men accounted for 73 percent of all suicides.
Suicides rates differ according to age groups. In 2000, suicide was the third leading cause of death among tento fourteen-year-olds, as well as among fifteento twenty-four-year-olds. Amongst teenagers, five times as many boys die from suicide as girls.
Older adults are also at risk for suicide. People age sixty-five and over comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 18 percent of all suicides in the United States in 2000. In 1999, 84 percent of suicides in this age group were men. The risk is especially high among white men age eighty-five and older. Divorced and widowed people are more at risk than those who are married, since being single can often lead to loneliness, social isolation, and depression.
Suicide prevention efforts rest largely on the identification and treatment of mental problems, including depression. Most forms of depression can be successfully treated, but sometimes the illness can be hidden behind other symptoms and go unrecognized. Reducing access to means of suicide, such as toxic substances and handguns, may also be a way of reducing suicide.
One aspect of suicide prevention is the existence of crisis hotlines, such as the one Howard volunteered for in “The Necessary Grace to Fall.” A crisis hotline is a phone number people can call to get emergency counseling, usually by trained volunteers. Such hotlines have existed in most major cities of the United States since the mid-1970s. Initially set up to help those contemplating suicide, many now deal more generally with emotional crises. However, there is no evidence that the existence of such hotlines has reduced the number of suicides.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Gina Ochsner, Published by Gale Group, 2006