In a week when two celebrities, first the designer Kate Spade and then the chef and television host Anthony Bourdain, took their own lives, new federal data was released showing that suicide rates have been increasing for years in almost every state and across demographic lines.
The escalating crisis has affected nearly every group and place, but the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that some parts of the country have been hit especially hard. Here’s a closer look at the study and the stories behind some of the data.
Montana has the country’s highest suicide rate, and suicides by military veterans are a significant contributor. A state study found that veterans account for more than 20 percent of Montana’s suicides and that veterans have a suicide rate more than twice that of nonveterans.
“All the issues that we have in Montana are magnified in our veteran population,” said Karl Rosston, the state’s suicide prevention coordinator. Mr. Rosston said rural isolation, easy access to guns and a lack of mental health services likely contributed to Montana’s suicide rate, which has been among the country’s highest for decades.
Guns are used in nearly half of all suicides, and ready access to weapons is one of several risk factors. New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut have the country’s lowest suicide rates. Those states are Democratic-leaning in their politics, clustered in the Northeast and have some of the country’s strictest gun control laws, though researchers say many other factors could account for their low rates.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which assigns letter grades to each state based on their strictness, grades each of those five states at a B+ level or higher. Texas and Nebraska, which have slightly higher suicide rates, have comparatively loose gun laws.
Suicide rates have increased across gender and geographic lines, but nearly 84 percent of people who kill themselves are white, and about 77 percent are men.
“There are mental health components, but also there’s relationships, employment, a lack of connectedness that we might see in males that increases the risk for suicide,” said Misty Vaughan Allen, Nevada’s state suicide prevention coordinator.
Gun control advocates have called for more states to pass laws that allow police officers to seize guns from people they deem dangerous. In Indiana, where such a law has been on the books since 2005, a recent study linked the measure to a 7.5 percent drop from the expected rate of firearm suicides.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the law is working. In 2016, the sheriff’s department in LaPorte County, Ind., used the law to confiscate a handgun from a man threatening to kill himself.
“We think that it has thwarted at least several suicides,” said the county sheriff, John Boyd, a Republican. “We’ve at least given them a time period to at least better think about their options and get them the help they need.”
Forty-nine states saw their suicide rates increase over the course of the C.D.C. study, in many cases by double-digit percentages.
Nevada was the lone exception, with a slight reduction in its rate. State officials attributed the improvement to years of work with community groups and in isolated towns where people are at a higher risk of suicide. But the state’s suicide rate remains among the country’s 10 highest.
“We’re still concerned about Nevada,” said Deborah Stone, the author of the C.D.C. study.
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