New York State's suicide rate is one of the lowest in the United States. According to the American Association of Suicidology, in 2005 1,326 New Yorkers took their own lives, which is 6.9 deaths per 100,000 of population and 49th among the states. But that fact will not be comforting to anyone who knew one of those persons. Given the closeness of life in many upstate towns and villages a death by suicide will shock and depress everyone, even as the victim may have been motivated by a sense of isolation.
Like any statistics, the figures on suicide must be interpreted carefully and with reference to non-statistical information. One-year figures only serve as a "snapshot". But there are things that we definitely know:
By a nearly 4:1 margin, more men than women take their own lives -- however, by a ratio of 3:1 more women attempt suicide. The difference in fatalities is due in part to men being more likely to use a lethal weapon. Eighty percent of deaths by firearms are suicides.
Age is a factor: Men over 65 are more likely to take their own life, ill health being the predominant motivation. However, although suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, it is 3rd among young people.
Also, a disturbingly high twenty percent of suicides nationally occur among military veterans.
Overall, there are about 25 attempts for every successful suicide. Everyone should know the warning signs that someone may have suicidal tendencies, and how to intervene before an attempt is made. Persons contemplating suicide do have places to turn. These are national suicide hot lines with expert counselors on duty 24 hours a day.
There are also institutions throughout New York ready to deal with individual crises. This live and interactive Community Conversation program features three professionals experienced in both prevention and intervention.
Melanie Puorto is Director of Suicide Prevention Initiatives for the New York State Office of Mental Health.
Marion Mossman is the Regional Director of the Mental Health Association in Ulster County. (Despite its name, the association is also active in Broome, Delaware, Otsego, Sullivan and Chenango Counties).
Brian Hart is Director of Community Services at the Chemung County Mental Hygiene Department, in Elmira.