Health Association in New York State, Inc.
Community Connections, Winter 2002/2003
Seize the Opportunity for Change
The good news: The past three years reflect improvement in addressing suicide in New York State; in 1998 the total number of suicides was 1,380. In 1999 that number dropped to 1,271 and for 2000 the provisional data suggests the number is decreasing to 1,156. So the good news Is that we are making an impact. The bad news is that, even though we make progress, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. From the website http://www.1-teenage-suicide.com/ we see that 90 percent of adolescent suicide victims have at least one diagnosable, active psychiatric illness at the time of death - most often depression, substance abuse, and conduct disorders. Only 15% of suicide victims are in treatment at the time of death. Clearly, we need to continue to work on ensuring that community mental health services are available, and accessible.
This edition takes a look at suicide and offers a variety of viewpoints. A clear opportunity is being offered to each of us. Will we take the time this New Year’s to take a look at the whole picture? As we enter this complex new year will we make choices based on what we know? Will we work to continue this successful trend in reducing the overall suicide numbers? Will we look at the areas that need improvement?
A study recently released in The Lancet tells of the high rate of suicide in China. It sees the causal factors as increasing acute and chronic stress and the ready availability of lethal pesticides and rodent poisons in rural areas, as well as the absence of mental health services in much of the country. Furthermore, deep social stigma toward suicide and depression delayed the Chinese government from addressing this issue earlier. As reported in the New York Times, “Dr. Phillips, a psychiatrist at the Huilongguan Hospital in Beijing, has estimated that 287,000 Chinese kill themselves each year, making it the fifth-largest cause of death in the country.” Now Dr. Phillips and his colleagues are officially opening the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center, which is financed by the Beijing city government. What do we learn from this? That ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. That an increase of stress, an absence of services and the availability of lethal tools increases the likelihood of suicide.
What do we know about our own situation? The country is experiencing an economic downturn, threats of terrorism are being aired daily, and, in New York State, the needs of those living with various forms of mental illness, including depression, are not being attended to. Is there any doubt that we are facing increased stress? That there are gaping holes in the availability of community service? Let’s not even talk about the concern over access to lethal tools?
As we move into 2003, may our view of how to deal with these difficult
questions become clearer, and may we seize the opportunity to do better.