By Erin Delmore
Until recently, New Jersey had the lowest suicide rate in the nation.
“As a whole we have a wealthier population, better educated population. Some of those correlate with fewer suicides. In New Jersey we’ve also had very strict handgun laws and to a large extent, particularly for males, there appears to be a connection between gun ownership and suicide,” said Phil Lubitz, Associate Director of NAMI New Jersey .
New data from the Centers for Disease Control shows suicide is becoming more common. Ranked last in the nation just four years ago, New Jersey’s rate has since risen by 13 percent — now tied for second-highest. The national rate is at its highest in 30 years.
“People, I think are in agreement that the economic downturn has had a dramatic effect,” said Lubitz.
New Jersey’s foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation. The state unemployment rate peaked at 9.8 percent in October 2009. It’s only recently dipped lower than the national average.
“So many people have essentially had their dreams for the future squashed by this downturn. You know that, the depression, the economic downturn has had the effect of people increasing abuse of alcohol, substances, also contributing factors to suicide,” Lubitz said.
The rise has touched nearly every age range and demographic group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 24- to 34-year-olds in New Jersey. A resident in this state is twice as likely to die by suicide than homicide. The only age group that saw suicide rates decline is those 75 and older. For men, the rate rose fastest among 45- to 64-year-olds. For women, it’s girls age 10 to 14.
“Now young women are getting their periods, menstrual cycle earlier, so that may have a role, that role also being that many mental illnesses start to develop at the time of puberty,” Maureen Brogan said.
She’s heads the state wide Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth at Rutgers University. She said increased responsibilities, pressure to achieve success, drug use, bullying and social media can be contributing factors.
“Our young people aren’t so equip to deal with what could spread so quickly,” Brogan said.
Research shows that the vast majority of people who take their own lives suffer from mental illness. The experts we spoke with pointed out the increased rates could be related to more accurate reporting, a result of successful efforts to destigmatize mental illness.