For the first year since 2011, New Jersey’s suicide rates decreased by 13 percent in 2016, from 9.7 per 100,000 New Jersey residents ages 10 and older (789 deaths) in 2015 to 8.4 per 100,000 (687 deaths) in 2016, according to the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH), Center for Health Statistics. 2016 is the most recent year for which data is available.
Suicide rates increased nationwide by 25 percent during the last two decades, according to information released today by the U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suicide remains one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., and one of three – in addition to drug overdoses and Alzheimer’s Disease – that are on the rise, according to the CDC.
“The deaths this week of designer Kate Spade and chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain are among those of more than 45,000 Americans who kill themselves each year,” Commissioner Elnahal said. “This is a reminder that no one is immune. These tragic deaths devastate families in all levels of society every 12 minutes.”
Nationally, up to 45 percent of individuals who die by suicide have visited their primary care physician within a month of their death; additional research suggests that up to 67 percent of those who attempt suicide received medical attention as a result of their attempt. Given these statistics, primary care has enormous potential to prevent suicides and connect people to needed specialty care — especially when they collaborate or formally partner with behavioral healthcare providers
Although New Jersey statistics tracked similarly to the nation’s during much of the CDC’s study from 1999-2016, the state ranked significantly better last year and has had the second lowest suicide rate in the nation – second to the District of Columbia - from 2014 to 2016.
Compared to the national 25.4-percent increase in suicides nationally between 1999 and 2016, New Jersey is in the third of states that had the lowest percentage increase.
“We have to keep up the hard work to make sure mental health care is affordable and accessible so people can get the help they need both before and during a crisis,” DOH Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said.
Nationwide, in 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide, about one death every 12 minutes, according to the CDC.
Using data from the New Jersey Violent Death Reporting System (NJVDRS), funded through the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, 40 percent of New Jersey residents who died by suicide in 2015 were reported to have had a history of a diagnosed mental health problem; and 30 percent were in either mental health or substance abuse treatment at the time of their death.
“Depression is one of the major causes of suicide that can be addressed through treatment,” said Deborah Hartel, Deputy Commissioner of the Integrated Health Services Branch, which contains the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “There are effective treatments that help people recover every day.”
Between 2010 and 2014, 478 veterans and members of the military in New Jersey killed themselves – a rate of 23 percent, according to NJVDRS.
“The high rate that remains for veterans is particularly alarming,” said Commissioner Elnahal, who was a top administrator at the Veterans Administration (VA) under President Barack Obama. “Twenty veterans a day take their lives. We need to work with the VA, the Division of Military and Veterans Affairs and any other willing partner to improve these tragic rates.”
New Jersey offers a Vet2Vet, 24-hour/7-day-a-week helpline, 1-866-838-7654 (1-866-VETS-NJ-4), where veterans can get confidential peer counseling and references to mental health professionals.
One of the most disturbing trends revealed in the CDC report, according to DOH Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, is that more than half – 54 percent - of the people had no reported diagnosis of a mental health condition.
“That speaks to the fact that we are still not screening adequately for mental health conditions and suicide risks. It’s also why improving access to mental healthcare is a top priority,” Commissioner Elnahal said.
Another alarming statistic in New Jersey, is that 26 percent of the people who died by suicide during a crisis situation had disclosed their intention to someone else.
“This is a reminder to take it very seriously when someone tells you they want to kill themselves,” Commissioner Elnahal said. “Be there for them. Get them help and follow up. Not all suicides are preventable, but many are.”
Regardless of whether they had a reported mental illness diagnosis, most people who died by suicide had experienced one or more factors that may have contributed, including a relationship problem, a recent crisis, or problematic substance abuse, according to the CDC.
“This is a public health issue that touches families across the state,” Commissioner Elnahal said. “This study makes it clear that there is no one single cause of suicide, but it does indicate that economic factors and access to behavioral health services does have an impact and can lead to deaths of despair.”
The most common method of suicide nationwide was firearms, followed by suffocation and poisoning.
In New Jersey, hanging, strangulation, suffocation was the most common method of suicide, accounting for 40-44 percent of suicides in general. Firearms were used in slightly less than one quarter of suicides each year; and poisonings - which include carbon monoxide deaths and drug overdoses- were responsible for about 17-19 percent of suicides each year.
Of the 40 percent of suicides in New Jersey that had a known mental health condition reported:
- 66 percent of deaths with reported mental health conditions were male;
- Nearly one-third had a recent or imminent crisis within two weeks of death;
- More than 40 percent were reported to have been in a depressed mood according to friends, family, or other sources of information;
- 18 percent had substance abuse problems reported, and 14 percent had alcohol problems;
- 76 percent were in current mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, 26 percent had suicidal ideation or thoughts, 23 percent had disclosed their intent to die by suicide with someone prior to taking action and nearly 30 percent had previous suicide attempts;
- 20 percent were reported as having problems with intimate partners;
- Half of these deaths were by hanging, strangling, and suffocation and another 24 percent were by poisoning/overdose. 16 percent died from firearm injuries.
Of the 60 percent of suicides in New Jersey that did not have a mental health condition reported:
- 81 percent of deaths with no reported mental health conditions were male;
- 31 percent had no reported circumstances at all;
- One quarter had a recent or imminent crisis within 2 weeks of death;
- 11 percent had substance abuse problems reported, and 6 percent has alcohol problems;
- Previous suicidal thoughts or ideation were reported in 8 percent of these suicides, and 5 percent had previous suicide attempts. Nearly 13 percent had disclosed intent to die by suicide.
- 16 percent were reported as having problems with intimate partners;
- Nearly 40 percent of these deaths were by hanging, strangling, and suffocation. Firearms accounted for 28 percent of these deaths (compared to 16 percent for those with a reported mental health condition). Another 14 percent died from poisoning/overdose.
The Commissioner urged that anyone whose life or whose loved one’s life is in immediate danger call 911. New Jersey also has its own state-based 24/7 suicide hotline, New Jersey Hopeline - 1-855-654-6735, where people can get referral to appropriate treatment.
DOH also has launched a webpage with suicide prevention resources at: http://nj.gov/health/integratedhealth/dmhas/home/suicide_prevention.shtml