A CDC analysis of data from the National Vital Statistics System published in April 2020 found that the suicide rate in the U.S. had increased 35 percent between 1999 and 2018. It reported that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages, and the second leading cause of death for those ages 10-34. This was enough to lower overall life expectancy in the country.
There’s been no definitive explanation for this trend. A flood of high-powered, toxic opioid painkillers, social media bullying, post traumatic stress disorder among veterans and the prevalence of readily accessible firearms have all been identified as contributing factors.
Economic disruption and enforced social isolation resulting from efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus haven’t helped. Most recently, suicide has become intermingled with the fallout from protests over police violence, including concerns from union leaders that officers could be pushed toward it by the wave of public anger coming at them.
In recent months, legislators have introduced dozens of bills addressing some aspect of this public health challenge. Among these were resolutions urging the end of restrictions imposed to prevent contagion, citing suicide among potential consequences “worse than the cure.”
SF4587 in Minnesota establishes a supplemental aid program for counties that must be used to address increased social-service costs related to “depression, despair, suicide and abuse” brought on by the pandemic. The program would be supported by federal funds received by the state under the CARES Act.
HB20-1411, a Colorado bill, notes that the isolation and disruption resulting from the pandemic have increased the risk of suicide among children and adolescents in the state. It allocates $2 million to support the efforts of school-based health centers to provide services such as telehealth to school-aged children.
S2421 in New Jersey would create a Purple Ribbon Schools Program in its Department of Education to recognize public and private schools with a “positive school climate” that is safe and inclusive for students and staff alike. A primary consideration in determining that a school has earned a Purple Ribbon designation would be whether it provides programs to raise awareness of and prevent youth suicide.
Ohio HR343 notes that the posting of explicit images and videos of non-consensual activity can have consequences ranging from humiliation and harassment to suicide. It asks Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to hold online services accountable if they fail to remove such content when persons depicted in it request its removal.
H2448 in Pennsylvania requires that a phone number for a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline be included on identification cards provided to students in grades six through 12. It also mandates that this information be posted on school websites and in the offices of counselors and school principals.
New York S8283 notes that veterans are at greater risk of suicide than other members of the U.S. population, with the rate highest among those ages 18-24. It establishes a “Suicide Awareness and Remembrance Flag” as the official state flag to remember veterans and calls for the commissioner of general services to establish protocol for flying it.
S2745, a Massachusetts bill, provides guidelines that would allow terminally ill residents of the state to request and self-administer medication to end their life. It establishes that dying in this manner should not referred to as “suicide” or “assisted suicide” in documents or reports and that the underlying disease will be listed as the cause of death. Life, health or accident insurance policies will not be affected if the patient has received and administered the medication according to the provisions of the act.
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