July 1st, 2012

Connecticut’s suicide increase tied to bad economy

Is the bad economy to blame for a significant rise in Connecticut’s suicides documented this past spring by the state’s chief medical examiner?

Experts suggest such a link to explain the 371 suicides recorded in 2011 by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the highest number of such deaths in the last 22 years. Men committed 288 suicides and 83 were by women. Men between ages 40 and 59 accounted for 37 percent of the deaths.

The second highest year occurred in 1991, also a period of economic downturn, with 362 suicides. The third highest year, 2010, had 358.

Studies in the U.S. and Europe have found suicides increased during times of economic hardship and decreased in prosperous years. A 2010 study published in Public Health Reports found suicide rates have climbed since 1988 for men aged 40-49 and since 1999 for women 40-59 and men aged 50-59. The rise was dramatic for those unmarried and without a college degree.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in April, second highest in New England after R.I. (11.2 percent) but below the 8.1 percent national rate. Construction, manufacturing, financial activities and government sectors continued to see significant job losses. While the state has the third highest median income in the country after Maryland. and N.J., according to the 2009 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a striking income gap exists between the urban areas and suburbs.

But the state’s suicide rate is low when compared to other states and the rising numbers of middle-aged deaths is part of a trend that Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services officials have been monitoring for several years, says Andrea Duarte, LCSW, MPH, behavioral health program manager.

“The thing to do is do some further analysis,” says Duarte.

She cautions against attributing the suicide increase solely to bad economic times, noting contributing factors can also be failing health, poor family relationships, divorce or separation. “There are confluences of variables that can lead someone to contemplate suicide. It’s not just one thing,” she says.

The department has been collecting data to develop evidence-based approaches to public health strategic planning. Suicide rates can help point to where the need for services exists and where resources should be allocated, Duarte adds.

Among areas for further study is determining statistical differences between counties and what influence if any Connecticut’s population of veterans may have on the rates. Tracking the means used to commit suicides can also help guide allocating suicide prevention resources, such as funding local police department prescription pill buyback programs, Duarte explains.

Suicide-related calls to the United Way of Connecticut’s 2-1-1 free information and confidential referral service are up significantly this year, says Director of 2-1-1 Wendy Caruso. From Jan. 1 through May 31, 2-1-1 call specialists at the 24/7 staffed Rocky Hill call center handled 2,238 such calls from 1,096 female callers and 989 male. The sex of 153 callers was not determined. In 2011, 2-1-1 logged a total of 3,130 suicide-related calls, of which 1,627 were female callers and 1,343 were male with the sex of 160 callers undetermined.

Connecticut’s 2-1-1 call center, among more than 150 crisis centers belonging to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, can handle calls from all over the country, though most are from Conn., Caruso says.

“I think people are struggling with the economy. We do hear that often. I think that that’s usually one of the factors when people are having problems,” said Retta Vadnais, 2-1-1 clinician manager.

By Janine Weisman

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