Alarming suicide rates in America


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: The nation’s rising suicide rate has people asking “why?”

NICK EICHER, HOST: Two outwardly successful, high-profile Americans took their own lives last week, shocking the nation. Yet suicide is a tragedy that respects no socio-economic boundaries—and it’s rising at an alarming rate.

WORLD Radio’s Jim Henry has our story.

JIM HENRY, REPORTER: The suicide of designer Kate Spade stunned the fashion world last week, but her family knew she struggled with depression.

The reason celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took his own life remains more of a mystery. The CNN production crew working with him on an episode of Parts Unknown in France said they saw no clues. 

Bourdain never let on that he was struggling as the cameras rolled. Here he is in the Philippines:

BOURDAIN: It is true that I lie to my daughter and tell her that Ronald McDonald has been implicated in the disappearance of small children, that I sneer at fast food, revile it at every opportunity. But I am also a hypocrite, because to me, Filipino chain Jollibee is the wackiest, jolliest place on earth.

The Spade and Bourdain suicides have raised public awareness of the issue to a level not seen in recent years. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported a 65 percent increase in calls— and 115 percent increase in texts—the week following their deaths.

The Spade and Bourdain stories are also bringing new attention to disturbing Centers for Disease Control data. The CDC found that from 1999 to 2016— the national suicide rate rose 25 percent

Daniel Reidenberg with Suicide Awareness Voices of Education says better reporting only explains away part of that increase. 

REIDENBERG: Families being willing to acknowledge that it’s been a death by suicide has been part of this, but we also know the recession that took place really impacted the suicide numbers of deaths. The opioid crisis has impacted the number of deaths by suicide. The military and those that have served still has increased the number of people dying by suicide.

Reidenberg also blames the media for the rise in suicides, for sensationalized reporting and romanticizing those who take their lives.

REIDENBERG: When there is the method of death reported in the media, that will impact whether or not there’s other deaths by suicide. Sometimes they don’t present a balanced perspective of the person who’s died by suicide. Those things tend to, especially for others who are at risk and vulnerable, increase the risk of suicide or copycat.

Suicide almost always ranks among the top ten causes of death in the United States across demographic lines. Women tend to attempt suicide more frequently than men, but men are four times more likely to actually do it.

Psychologist Melinda Moore trains clinicians in suicide prevention.

She says commonly accepted warnings signs such as depression and withdrawal are not necessarily good predictors of suicide. She says there’s a better way to tell. 

MOORE: A lot of individuals who are suicidal might feel like they’re a burden. They may feel like they’re a burden to the people around them. And what they also have is what we call a capability for self harm. They’re kind of fearless in the face of death. They know how to use a firearm, you know, they drive at high rates of speed. 

If you suspect someone might be at risk for suicide, Moore recommends a direct but positive approach. 

MOORE: If you say to somebody, ‘You’re not having thoughts of suicide are ya?’ they’re going to pick up on all of that and they’re going to say, ‘Oh no, I’m not having thoughts of suicide. But if you say to somebody, ‘I’m really worried about you, are you having thoughts of suicide?’ You know, just in an open, non-judgmental, compassionate way, that makes all the difference in the world.

Moore’s group— the Faith Communities Task Force— is organizing a weekend of prayer to prevent suicide— September 7th through the 9th.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jim Henry.


(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, Andy Kropa/Invision) This combination of 2004 and 2016 file photos shows fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain in New York.  

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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