Interactive Map: NJ suicide rate ranks among lowest but uptick raises concerns

Colleen O'Dea, Reporter | September 13, 2013 | Map of the Week, Maps
Incidents of suicide rise slightly in state, climb rapidly in nation; New Jersey focuses prevention on youths

As mental-health organizations marked this week as National Suicide Prevention Week, suicide is on the rise in New Jersey and across the country following a period of relative stability.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control’s CDC Wonder database, both the number of New Jerseyans and the proportion of the population who died by suicide rose in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available. There were 719 suicides in the state that year, a rate of 8.2 per 100,000 people. That’s by far the highest since at least 1999, with the closest being 615 suicides or a rate of 7.1 in 2008. Typically, the annual rate has been about 6.8 with about 588 self-inflicted deaths a year.

The American Association of Suicidology noted a rate increase nationally from 2009 to 2010, with a total of 38,364 nationally, or 105 per day, and a rate of 12.4. New Jersey’s rate of 8.2 was the third-lowest, higher only than New York’s 8 per 100,000 and 6.8 in the District of Columbia.

“The rate of suicides in the United States is rapidly escalating,” said Christopher Kosseff, a clinical psychology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, last May as the state announced a $649,000 grant to University Behavioral HealthCare, now part of Rutgers, for the state’s first suicide hot line (855-654-6735). “It has risen by more than 30 percent in the past 10 years. The State of New Jersey is taking definitive action to help reduce the rate of suicides by funding the New Jersey Hopeline.”

New Jersey’s rate becomes a little more stable when comparing multiple years, as is recommended because of the relatively small number of suicides each year. Still, the rate of 7 per 100,000 for the most recent five-year period, 2006-10, was higher than for the prior one, 2001-05, when the rate was 6.7. There were approximately 40 more suicides a year in 2006-10 than in 2001-05.

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families found the opposite trend in looking at suicide by younger people – ages 10-24 – for its Update 2012 Adolescent Suicide Report released last November. According to the report, the suicide rate for that age group in 2011 was 4.2 per 100,000, less than the rate of 5.3 in 2010. This was also below the national rate of 5.8.

“Although New Jersey has had the lowest state-level adolescent suicide rate for more than a decade, this reality provides little consolation to friends and family who may have lost a loved one to suicide,” wrote DCF Commissioner Allison Blake in the introduction to the report.

New Jersey’s data also differs from the national in terms of the primary method used, in large part because of the state’s tough gun-control laws. Nationally, just over half of all suicides are by firearm, with suffocation or hanging ranking second, responsible for about a quarter of self-inflicted deaths. In New Jersey, 4 in 10 suicides were by suffocation or hanging, while a little less than 30 percent were from self-inflicted gunshots.

Young males in New Jersey committed suicide at much higher rates – 7.2 per 100,000 in 2009-11 versus 1.7 for females, according to the report. Females, however, made more attempts at suicide than males – 57.9 per 100,000 females tried suicide and wound up hospitalized in 2009-11, compared with 34.2 males.

Source: CDC Wonder

One major effort the state undertook this year was to launch its first 24-hour suicide-prevention hot line, NJ Hopeline. The state’s efforts at suicide prevention among young people include a federally-funded prevention project led by the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth at Rutgers University targeting those at greater risk for suicide, including gays, college students, Latinas and black males; the creation of county youth suicide prevention task forces and a statewide social media campaign to promote access to mental health and substance abuse services.

Blake wrote that the decrease in youth suicide and the results of a 2011 youth risk behavior survey that found high school students attempting suicide less often are signs the state’s prevention efforts are working, but pledged the state will continue to do what it can.

“Through educating youth, teachers, and parents on warning signs, how to get help, as well as building positive supports for youth in their schools, New Jersey’s youth suicide prevention programs offer support and hope,” Blake wrote. “Nevertheless, the work to continually improve our youth suicide prevention efforts is not over. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and DCF is committed to diligently work to decrease the rate of youth suicide in New Jersey.”