Suicide generis.

In suicide, the United States ranks 50th among countries, with a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 people. South Korea[1] (28.9) ranks 2nd; Japan (18.5) ranks 17th; Belgium (14.2) ranks 34th; France (12.4) ranks 47th; Canada (10.8) ranks 70th; and Britain (6.2) ranks 102nd.[2] Within this broad figure are many sub-categories. We can cut up the data by gender, race, age, and region.

Within the American rate of 12.1 suicides per 100,000 people is a big disparity. The rate for men is 19.4 per 100,000; the rate for women is 5.2 per 100,000. American men who attempt suicide are almost four times as likely to succeed as are American women. Almost all firearm suicides are men. Why is this? Possibly because most women don’t like guns and don’t want to know how to use one, so guns aren’t an option when they want to commit suicide—even if the guns are available. Possibly, women just want to make a demonstration that something in their life is terrible, while men really do want to blow out their brains. Why would men, more than women, want to make sure that suicide ends in death?

The highest U.S. suicide rate (14.2) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.7) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.8), Blacks (5.4) and Hispanics (5.7).[3]

The highest U.S. suicide rate (19.1) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (18.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. (That I can understand: no months in bed with tubes in you and with somebody wiping your backside just so the doctors can bill your heirs.) Everyone younger than these groups has had consistently lower suicide rates.[4]

In 2013, nine Western states had suicide rates in excess of 18/100,000: Montana (23.7), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), New Mexico (20.3), Idaho (19.2), Nevada (18.2), Colorado (18.5), and South Dakota (18.2).[5] Conversely, places in the Northeast had suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: District of Columbia (5.8), New Jersey (8.0), New York (8.1), Massachusetts (8.2), and Connecticut (8.7). Shoveling snow and warding-off black flies is good.

What is it about being a middle-aged white man in contemporary America that has the same psychological effect as living on an Indian Reservation, among the bleakest places in America? One criminal justice scholar has offered an explanation for mass shootings that may also bear on the suicide rate in the United States. American culture says that hard work leads to success. Except that it often does not (or people persuade themselves that they have worked hard when that isn’t exactly true). At some point, these men come to despair. For mass shooters, “they are in real pain, but they’re eager to blame that pain on those around them.”[6] They lash out. Perhaps far more men conclude that they themselves are to blame for their misfortunes. Hence, suicide. So, is it possible that “the American Dream” is more of a nightmare?

[1] What’s so awful about South Korea? Well, it’s a country that has gone through a dramatic social transformation in less than half a century. Now it’s mostly educated, industrial, urban, and exciting (leaving aside the kim-chee). However, the older generation is stuck in the countryside, farming hard-scrabble land, without much education (or the opportunity that comes with education), and un-exciting. The kids rarely visit; they just send you a TV so you can see what you’re missing. Many older people feel cast-aside or a burden. This is true of both old men and old women: the suicide rate is nearly the same for both genders. Eventually, the suicide rate will drop.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

[3] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

[4] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures   However, in 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9.

[5] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures Ouch! A bunch of these are places I’d like to retire.

[6] John Lankford, University of Alabama, quoted in “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.

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