Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Stability of Suicide

April 28th, 2009 · 2 Comments

It’s a bright, gorgeous morning here at Harlem headquarters, which obviously means it’s the perfect time to revisit one of Microkhan’s favorite topics: suicide.

The graph above shows the suicide rate in the United States between 1950 and 2005. As you can see, the rate has been remarkably stable over the years, despite growing awareness of mental-health issues and suicide prevention tactics. There have been intermittent increases, such as in 1975, but they could hardly qualify as spikes. (One researcher has hypothesized that the mid-70’s spike was caused by a Me Decade divorce wave.)

Microkhan wonders if this means there’s a “natural rate” of suicide in a society, a baseline of self-destructive activity that can never be stamped out by policy. As long as love affairs fail and creditors insist on repayment, suicide will remain a fixture of the human condition. Perhaps we can have a national goal of getting back to 1950’s relatively low rate of 7.6 suicides per 100,000 Americans. But then again, Microkhan is skeptical of that figure—the first year of tracking data is always difficult, especially back in an era when many suicides were probably mislabeled by embarrassed communities. (Microkhan does wonder whether the high rate of male suicides in 1950 was due to post-traumatic stress among World War II vets.)

This historical data also raises the question of whether suicide attempts have remained stable over the years. Our hunch is that the number of annual attempts has markedly increased since 1950, which would explain why suicide rates have remained steady despite huge advances in emergency medicine. (Average distance from ERs may play a big role in Montana’s sky-high suicide rate.)

Okay, that’s enough morbidity for a warm spring day. Get happy, dear readers.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • The Bridge Factor

    […] of argument, we have previously made clear that decades worth of anti-suicide measures seem to have done little to affect America’s overall suicide rate. So clearly whatever we’re doing now isn’t working as well as we’d […]

  • The Suicide Conundrum

    […] we seem unable to make much of a dent in America’s overall suicide rate, which has remained remarkably stable over the past half-century. In fact, the rate of suicide attempts seems to have gone up over that […]