Who knew there was such a thing as a "Suicide Map of the United States," but it stands to reason that such a thing exists, because the data it illustrates can be mapped. (The map at left is rather old, but serves to illustrate the point.)
Each year, the United States, through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, collects data by state of how many people have killed themselves, and from this data can form a ranking of suicide rates by state and gender. My question is -- do suicide rates among veterans follow the pattern previously set by state? And perhaps more importantly, are the military installations in a given state (like the National Guard) aware of how prevalent suicide among young males is or isn't in their state, so they can react accordingly, and perhaps increase screening of veterans for suicide risk?
From 2005 data, collected by the CDC, the top states for suicide by males are ranked in the following order: 1) Montana; 2) Nevada; 3) Alaska; 4) New Mexico; 5) Colorado; 6) (tied for 5th place) - North Dakota; 7) South Dakota; 8) Idaho; 9) Wyoming; 10) Arizona; 11) Oregon; 12) Tennessee; 13) West Virginia; 14) Oklahoma; 15) (tied for 14th place) - Arkansas; 16) Utah; 17) Maine; 18) Kentucky; 19) Kansas; 20) Mississippi; 21) Washington state; 22) Missouri; 23) New Hampshire; 24) Florida; 25) Indiana; 26) Alabama; 27) Ohio; 28) Vermont; 29) South Carolina; 30) Pennsylvania; 31) Wisconsin; 32) Virginia; 33) Louisiana; 34) North Carolina; 35) Michigan; 36) Iowa; 37) (tied for 36th place) - Minnesota; 38) Delaware; 39) (tied for 38th place) - Texas; 40) Nebraska; 41) Georgia; 42) Maryland; 43) Illinois; 44) California; 45) Connecticut; 46) Hawaii; 47) (tied for 46th place) - Massachusetts; 48) New York; 49) New Jersey; 50) Rhode Island; and 51) District of Columbia.
The Minnesota National Guard has stood out for its proactive stance on reintegration services for returning combat veterans - we've blogged about their efforts earlier, here. But according to the data above, Minnesotans males are 37th least likely in the U.S. to commit suicide. The New Hampshire National Guard has a program that's apparently a model for the nation -- we blogged about it earlier, here -- but New Hampshire males are 23rd least likely in the nation to commit suicide. The Vermont National Guard has also taken proactive steps to help its veterans reintegrate successfully -- we blogged about that, here -- but males in its state are 28th least likely in the U.S. to kill themselves.
How about the Montana National Guard, the Nevada National Guard, the Alaska National Guard, the New Mexico National Guard, the Colorado National Guard, the North Dakota National Guard, and so forth -- are they taking steps to educate their servicemembers at risk for suicide? Ironically, as we blogged about it, here, in March of 2006, the Iowa National Guard -- and Iowan males are 8th in the nation, according to the above data, in suicide risk -- had downgarded their mental health counseling for returning veterans from "mandatory" to "optional." Let's hope they've since changed that and made effective screening mandatory -- along with all 50 other states. Of the National Guards in the top six states at risk for male suicide mentioned above, only one -- Montana -- has any mention of mental health issues on its website. The Montana National Guard seems to have been holding a series of public meetings in May for Montanas to help recognize PTSD in their returning servicemembers. See that link, here. A great step forward, at least for the Montana National Guard, in the state that has the highest suicide rate for men in the nation.
Data source: CDC's WISQARS website "Fatal Injury Reports," http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/; downloaded January 24, 2008. Prepared by John L. McIntosh, Ph.D., Indiana University, South Bend, for posting by the American Association of Suicidology -- January, 2008. (The American Association of Suicidology's website is linked here.)