Suicide Rates Are On The Rise, Rural Areas Are Particularly Hard-Hit

'[The factors that contribute to suicide] are really bad in rural areas,' said a researcher.

a hand holding a container that's spilling out pills, figuratively representing suicide
rtdisoho / Pixabay

'[The factors that contribute to suicide] are really bad in rural areas,' said a researcher.

The percentage of Americans who take their lives is on the rise, and the problem is significantly worse in rural areas, NBC News reports.

According to a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at cases of reported suicide among Americans ages 25 to 64 between 1999 and 2016. The team, led by Danielle Steelesmith, a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, found that in that 17-year period, suicides in that age group rose by 41 percent.

What’s more, in rural areas, Americans in that age group committed suicide at a 25 percent higher rate than their urban peers.

What’s Behind The Increase?

Several factors were blamed for the sharp increase in suicide rates, including two that stand out — social fragmentation and easier access to guns.

Social fragmentation refers to the phenomenon of people becoming more isolated socially, and thus, lacking access to a support system of family and friends. Social fragmentation is itself on the rise for a variety of reasons, including an increase in single-parent households, decreasing marriage rates, and an increase in the number of transient individuals.

And of course, as Steelsmith points out, people in rural areas are more strongly affected by social fragmentation.

Another issue is the increased availability of guns. In urban counties especially, the increase in the number of gun shops was a factor in increased suicide rates. In fact, the increase in the number of gun shops was a factor in the suicide rates in all but the most rural of rural counties.

Veterans

An increase in the number of veterans committing suicide is also a driving factor in increasing suicide rates. Oren Miron, a researcher at the Clalit Research Institute in Israel who also studies suicide rates in collaboration with Harvard Medical School, says that veterans, many of whom struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, often have difficulty finding or maintaining employment; these two risk factors “may interact in a dangerous way,” says Miron.

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“If a veteran returns from deployment to a county without jobs, he might lose hope in rejoining civilian life. The re-entry to civilian life is a period with high suicide risk, which raises the need to help veterans from rural counties in getting their first job,” Miron warned.

Where The Problem Is The Worst

Counties in Western states, including in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have seen the sharpest increase in suicide rates. They’re followed by counties in the Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia; and then certain rural counties in the Ozarks, in Arkansas and Missouri.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.