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Shocking Study: Suicide Overtakes Car Accidents As Leading Cause of Death -- Is the Economy to Blame?

The suicide rate has increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009.
 
 
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An extremely disturbing new study published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that  suicides have replaced car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. This is partly because deaths from automobile accidents are down — that’s the good news.

But the truly catastrophic news is that the suicide rate has increased dramatically: between 2000 and 2009, according to data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, deaths by suicide went up by 15%, and deaths from poisoning increased by a whopping 128%. Moreover, researchers say that many of the poisoning deaths, which are labeled as “accidental,” may actually be intentional. According to the study’s author, Professor Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, “Suicides are terribly undercounted; I think the problem is much worse than official data would lead us to believe.” He added “there may be 20 percent or more unrecognized suicides.”

Experts note that much of the increase in poisoning deaths is due to prescription drug overdoses, but none of the reports I found about the study speculate about what psychological, social, or economic causes are behind the spike in suicides. (I was unable to find an online copy of the study itself). But there is strong evidence elsewhere that our disastrous economy may be playing a significant role. Last year, a  report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that “[s]uicide rates in the U.S. tend to rise during recessions and fall amid economic booms.”

In Europe, a recent wave of “suicides by economic crisis” has been  well-documented, as these shocking statistics attest:

In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, government statistics show. In Ireland during the same period, suicides among men rose more than 16 percent. In Italy, suicides motivated by economic difficulties have increased 52 percent, to 187 in 2010 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — from 123 in 2005.

And in the midst of this stunning evidence of overwhelming human devastation and tragedy, we have a major party candidate for president who seems to believe that America’s biggest problem is that too many poor people don’t pay enough income taxes. It chills my blood just thinking about it.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She has written for The Washington Monthly, Salon, Reuters, and other publications. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee.

 
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