Suicide Rates linked to Poverty Rates

Suicide is a national public health issue, especially among our youth and young adults. Suicide is the second (2nd) leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in our nation, only surpassed by “Unintentional Injuries” which include auto accidents, accidental drug overdoses, falls, accidental gun shots, etc.  These rates have been increasing, especially considering the mental health impact that has been caused by COVID-19.

In Tennessee, suicide ideation (the serious considering of suicide), was 19.2% (almost 1 out of 5) in youth grades 9-12 as reported in the latest CDC Youth Risk Behavioral Survey and 10.6% (almost 1 out of 9) reported having attempted suicide one or more times in the past twelve months. Suicide is not only a leading cause of death, but it has also been declared a leading cause of preventable death in our nation. Four out of five individuals considering suicide give some sign of their intentions, either verbally or behaviorally. In 80% of cases, we have an opportunity to intervene and prevent the tragedy of suicide if we know how to recognize these warning signs and how to appropriately respond.

Another tool has been added to help identify elevated “at-risk” youth for suicide and it is tied to economics. The Journal of The American Medical Association in their publication JAMA Pediatrics released a report in 2020 that defines a correlation in the poverty level within a county with suicide rates in youth and young adults. The study of over ten years of data revealed that in U.S. counties with poverty rates of at least 20%, people 5 to 19 years old were 37% more likely to die by suicide than people in counties where less than 5% of residents lived in poverty.  Suicide rates increased in a stepwise manner as poverty concentration increased. The report encourages more concentrated suicide prevention measures in areas of increased poverty levels. 

In response to this call to action and with this new data/tool, The Jason Foundation will increase efforts to promote suicide prevention in counties that have a 20% or higher overall poverty rate to address the elevated risk factor underscored in this report. In Tennessee, this represents almost 13% of our 95 counties. This heightened effort will include providing more information related to awareness and education to better be able to recognize someone who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. We will also be sharing the tools and resources of mental health organizations and treatments centers that can assist someone with suicidal ideation in those counties.