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Rising Suicide Rates

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Not only is the United States’s suicide rate rising, but other wealthy nations as well.

From 1999 to 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24%. The numbers are adjusted to take account of ageing. Men shoot themselves; women take poison. There has been a rise in suffocation and strangulation.

The finding fits with other melancholy ones from economists, including Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who have pointed to declining life-expectancy for poor whites, and Raj Chetty of Stanford and his colleagues at Harvard and elsewhere, who show how inequality correlates with illness. Everything seems to point in the same direction, to a national malaise, challenging the idea that America’s story is one of inexorable progress. Yet some caution is order. The suicide rate declined steadily from 1986 until 2000, the date the CDC paper takes as its starting point. What is happening in America is a return to the mid-1980s rather than a leap into some lethal, dystopian future.

It is also worth noting that a similar pattern can be seen some other countries. Using a database from the OECD, and filling in a few gaps from other sources, we have compared America’s suicide rates with those elsewhere. The OECD data do not correspond exactly with those produced by the CDC because of the different ways their respective statisticians adjust the raw numbers for ageing. But they show that America’s suicide rate comes out considerably lower than those of France or Belgium. And the recent uptick is mirrored in Britain and the Netherlands, among other countries.

Maybe the question is why it fell in the late 20th century?

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