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Men working in construction, stay-at-home mums, and students are committing suicide in alarmingly high numbers, and it's part of a disturbing trend

Hilary Brueck
  • The troubling trend of rising suicide rates in the US is getting worse.
  • According to a new report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate rose 34% from 2000-2016, from 12.9 suicides per 100,000 people to 17.3.
  • The CDC mentioned that construction workers, students, and stay-at-home mums were groups with some of the highest suicide numbers, but the increase wasn't limited to any one kind of person.
  • The statistics point to a brutal truth: There is more suicide happening throughout the US' entire socioeconomic spectrum.

Disheartening data released Thursday by the CDC suggests that the troubling trend of rising suicide rates in the US is getting worse.

The new numbers, released in the CDC's weekly morbidity and mortality report, suggest that the US suicide rate rose 34% in workers of all ages from 2000-2016 (among the 17 US states that reported data to the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System). That's higher than the last figure the CDC released earlier this year, which suggested a 30% rise in suicides.

"Rates will likely continue to go up if we don't, as a society, really put more emphasis on comprehensive suicide prevention," CDC report author and suicide prevention researcher Deb Stone told Business Insider.

"Everybody can learn the warning signs for suicide and know how to respond," she added. "It's not a weakness to need help."

Men overall have some of the highest suicide rates, especially elderly men over the age of 75. But when the researchers broke suicide data down by profession, construction workers had the highest rates of suicide among men. The new numbers didn't take into account suicide rates among unemployed men or those working in the military, which makes it tough to know for sure which group of men is truly most at risk.

"There are some occupation groups that probably do have a culture ... where they have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps," Stone said. "But it doesn't have to be that way."

There's also been a troublingly steep increase in suicides among men between the ages of 45 and 64, as well as a rise in so-called "deaths of despair" from drug, alcohol, and suicide among white, middle-aged men without a college degree.

For women, the data suggests that those with "unpaid occupations" - mainly students, stay-at-home-mums, incarcerated women, and those who are unemployed - had the highest number of female suicides in both 2012 and 2015 (the two years for which researchers compared suicide rates between professions). Other recent CDC data suggests that teen girls, who have traditionally accounted for a very small portion of suicides, are also taking their own lives at alarmingly high rates.

Interestingly, the authors of the new report noted that teachers and librarians have some of the lowest suicide rates when professions are compared. (But that doesn't mean there's anything special about being a teacher or librarian that might lower the risk of suicide.)

"Suicide can happen to anybody," the CDC's Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told reporters on a call earlier this year.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for all Americans from 10 to 34 years old.

Read More: Anthony Bourdain's death is part of a disturbing trend in the US that's getting much worse

Woman pushing stroller

No one is immune

Although some groups have higher suicide rates than others, the overall trend holds true for people across generations, races, income brackets, and professions. The authors of the new report point out that job insecurity, unemployment, and relationship problems can all play a role in suicide risk, but the factors that lead to an individual suicide are complicated.

In the US, another big factor may be that many people don't seek treatment for mental-health issues. Even though more than 50% of people in the US will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point, only half receive treatment. The problem is deadly: a 2015 report from the CDC suggested that more than one in 10 (13.2%) people who took their own lives had a history of psychiatric illness but were not receiving treatment at the time of their suicide. That lack of treatment can either be because the healthcare system makes it prohibitively expensive to seek care, or because mental-health services simply aren't available where people live.

John Mann, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, studies the causes of depression and suicide. He previously told Business Insider that several factors had most likely contributed to America's rising suicide rates, but lack of access to good preventative care is a big part of the equation.

"We have a serious, national problem in terms of adequate recognition of psychiatric illnesses and their treatment,"Mann said. "That is the single most effective suicide-prevention method in Western nations."

A 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that of all practicing medical providers in the US, therapists were the least likely to take insurance. In 2010, only 55% of psychiatrists accepted insurance plans, compared with 89% of other healthcare professionals, like cardiologists, dermatologists, and podiatrists.

Stigmas about seeing a therapist or going to counseling are an issue, too.

"We need to make more of an effort at getting people who aren't good at seeking help, like men, to go and get help," Mann said.

What you can do

Group hug

The authors of the report wrote that "because many adults spend a substantial amount of their time at work, the workplace is an important but underutilized location for suicide prevention."

The agency offers a 62-page manual called "Preventing Suicide" online, and it suggests that fostering more social connections at work and at home can help improve mental health and decrease depression rates.

"Connectedness and social capital together may protect against suicidal behaviours by decreasing isolation, encouraging adaptive coping behaviours, and by increasing belongingness, personal value, and worth, to help build resilience in the face of adversity," the authors of the manual wrote.

Additionally, asking your coworkers, family, and friends how they're doing and really listening to what they say in return is a small, simple first step. The National Council for Behavioural Health has published a Mental Health First Aid handbook that can serve as a how-to guide for talking about mental health.

The book advises people not to shy away from asking someone in their life about suicidal thoughts if they think that person may be at risk.

"Do not avoid using the word 'suicide,'" the book says. "It is important to ask the question without dread and without expressing a negative judgment."

Asking "are you having thoughts of suicide?" or "are you thinking about killing yourself?" are both fine ways to start a conversation.

It's a myth that talking about suicide might somehow plant the idea in a person's mind (it won't) and telling someone you care and want to help is always a good idea. Mental-health trainers say one of the best things you can do for someone is express concern and willingness to help - then let them do most of the talking.

Reminding someone that suicidal thoughts are common and often associated with a treatable mental disorder can also be a way to support them. Ask that person to think about some things that may have helped them in the past, like a doctor, therapist, family member, or friend. Don't ever use guilt or threats to try to prevent a suicide.

"Help people," Schuchat said. "Look for those warning signs in people you love and care for."