Sui­cide rate in N.M. dips after years of in­crease

De­spite 6 per­cent drop, state’s among high­est in na­tion

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION - By Cyn­thia Miller

Sui­cide num­bers have de­clined in New Mex­ico, the state Health De­part­ment an­nounced, drop­ping 6 per­cent be­tween 2015 and 2016.

In a news re­lease is­sued Fri­day, the de­part­ment re­ported that the de­crease has re­versed a ris­ing trend of sui­cides over the last sev­eral years. There were 469 re­ported sui­cides in New Mex­ico last year, the de­part­ment said, down from 498 in 2015. The state con­sis­tently has had one of the high­est sui­cide rates in the na­tion.

“The sui­cide of a loved one, whether it’s a par­ent, sib­ling, or friend, im­pacts the lives of those left be­hind for­ever,” state Health Sec­re­tary Lynn Gal­lagher said in the news re­lease. “Sui­cides are pre­ventable, and this ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­ter­mined to reach more New Mex­i­cans early enough to get them sup­port when they need it most.”

Fri­day’s re­port comes as new gov­ern­ment data show sui­cide rates among mil­i­tary veter­ans in New Mex­ico and other West­ern states are the high­est in the na­tion. The De­part­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs data, which show wide state-by-state dis­par­i­ties, sug­gest so­cial iso­la­tion, gun own­er­ship and ac­cess to health care may be fac­tors.

The re­port, the VA’s first to ex­am­ine sui­cides by state, shows Mon­tana, Utah, Ne­vada and New Mex­ico had the high­est rates of vet­eran sui­cide as of 2014, the most cur­rent federal data avail­able. Veter­ans in wide ar­eas of those states must drive 70 miles or more to reach the near­est VA med­i­cal cen­ter, the re­port said.

The sui­cide rates in those four states stood at 60 per 100,000 in­di­vid­u­als or higher, far above the na­tional vet­eran sui­cide rate of 38.4. Those num­bers com­pare with an over­all U.S. sui­cide rate of 13.0 deaths per 100,000 people.

The over­all rate of vet­eran sui­cides in the West was 45.5. All other re­gions of the coun­try had rates be­low the na­tional rate.

Data from the New Mex­ico Of­fice of the Med­i­cal In­ves­ti­ga­tor show sui­cide num­bers have steadily risen in the state in at least the last two decades, from about 300 in 1995 to a peak in 2015 of what an OMI an­nual re­port lists as 479. The Health De­part­ment pro­vided a higher fig­ure in its re­port Fri­day. The rea­son for the dis­crep­ancy was un­clear.

While the rate of sui­cide deaths in New Mex­ico in 1995 was about 17 deaths per 100,000 res­i­dents, the rate in 2016 was about 22.5 deaths per 100,000 res­i­dents.

In New Mex­ico and across the U.S., the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of sui­cide deaths are among white men, and the most fre­quent cause of a sui­cide death is a gun­shot wound. More than 260 sui­cide deaths in New Mex­ico were caused by gun­shots, state data show, in­clud­ing 17 chil­dren.

Sui­cide was the 10th lead­ing caus­ing of death in the U.S. in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion, and the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. It was the third lead­ing cause of death for chil­dren be­tween 10 and 14.

The New Mex­ico Health De­part­ment of­fers preven­tion ef­forts such as train­ing pub­lic school staff and com­mu­nity mem­bers statewide in sui­cide preven­tion prac­tices. Th­ese pre­sen­ta­tions in­clude in­for­ma­tion on how to iden­tify and sup­port people at risk, as well as guide­lines on safe re­port­ing about sui­cide.

Last year, in an ef­fort to ad­dress con­cerns about a ris­ing sui­cide rate in the state, the New Mex­ico Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment, us­ing $1.47 mil­lion in federal grant fund­ing, be­gan a pro­gram to train pri­mary care doc­tors and other med­i­cal care providers to screen pa­tients for risks of sui­cide. Pri­mary doc­tors of­ten are a sui­ci­dal pa­tient’s only con­tact with a health pro­fes­sional.

Sui­cide doesn’t have just one sin­gle cause, though data show risk fac­tors in­clude de­pres­sion, abu­sive re­la­tion­ships, health con­di­tions, fi­nan­cial chal­lenges and le­gal prob­lems, the news re­lease said.

Any­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sui­ci­dal thoughts or need­ing help in a cri­sis should con­tact the New Mex­ico Cri­sis Line at 855-NM-CRI­SIS or the Na­tional Sui­cide Preven­tion Life­line at 800-273-TALK.

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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