Early signs suggest the number of suicides in the U.S. crept up during the worst recession in decades, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of states that account for about 40 percent of the U.S. population.
Available data, still incomplete, suggest that this recession, like past ones, coincided with an uptick in suicides. The data from 19 states find an increase in suicides in the recessionary year of 2008 from 2007. Those states historically account for about half of annual suicides in the U.S. Calls to suicide hotlines are rising. And suicides in the workplace and the military — a small sliver all of self-inflicted deaths — were up in 2008.
Official data on suicides in the U.S. lag, and a 2008 national tally isn't yet available. In 2007, there were 33,185 suicides, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with an average of about 32,800 in the previous three years.
A Journal survey of the 33 largest states by population found 19 have data for 2008. In all, those 19 reported a total of 15,335 suicides in 2008, up about 2.3 percent from the previous year.
Thirteen states, accounting for 30 percent of the U.S. population, reported more suicides in 2008. In Florida, for instance, suicides were up 6 percent, in Georgia, up 2.3 percent, and in North Carolina, up 7.8 percent. In six smaller states, which account for about 9.5 percent of the population, the number of suicides fell.
The precise reasons for the rise in suicides aren't yet known. But suicide rates have historically risen during tough economic times, when unemployment is high, suicide experts say.