A Troubling Rise in Oregon Suicides

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Oregon is ahead of the nation in at least one category, but it isn’t anything to rejoice over: The state’s suicide rate is more than one-third higher than the national rate, according to a report released yesterday by Oregon Public Health.

The report, titled ”Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Risk Factors,” found that in the period from 2000 to 2006 the suicide rate in Oregon was 15.2 persons per 100,000 of population. That was 35% above the national rate of 11.3 per 100,000.

The department found that after declining in the 1990s, “suicide rates have been increasing significantly since 2000,” according to a news release. Men are almost four times more likely to die by suicide, and male veterans had a higher suicide rate than non-veterans, accounting for 27% of all suicides in the state.

While the department didn’t pinpoint any specific causes for the rising suicide rate, it noted that “[t]he single most identifiable risk factor associated with suicide is depression” and that “stress and crisis” can overwhelm a depressed person’s ability to cope.

"Many people often keep their depression a secret for fear of discrimination,” said principal investigator Lisa Millet. “Unfortunately, families, communities, businesses, schools and other institutions often discriminate against people with depression or other mental illness. These people will continue to die needlessly unless they have support and effective community-based mental health care.”

The department urged people who are contemplating suicide or know someone who is considering suicide to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

What’s especially worrisome is that the department’s report only goes up to 2006, which was before the real estate bubble popped and Oregon’s economy became one of the weakest in the nation. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention emphasizes that “while historically there have been reports about suicide rates increasing during past economic recessions, direct cause and effect has not been studied or determined.” But job loss, homelessness and bankruptcy definitely are stressful life events, so the data since 2006 could well be even more disturbing.


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