September 10, 2019: World Suicide Prevention Day
September 10, 2019, was World Suicide Prevention Day, a directed effort of the United Nations (UN) and other agencies to focus public and professional energies on the problem. The UN health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), published its first global report on suicide prevention in 2014. Dr. Margret Chan, then Director-General of WHO, said suicide is a “large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long.”
According to the WHO report, Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, a person completes suicide somewhere in the world every 40 seconds, which adds up to 800,000 deaths each year. To put this in perspective, today there are more deaths from suicide than from war and homicide combined. About 80 percent of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Men are at greater risk for suicide than women. The suicide rate for youth is rising and ranks as the second leading cause of death among those aged 10–24.
In the United States, the suicide rate has been climbing since 2000. In that year, it was at its lowest since researchers began gathering data a hundred years ago: 10.4 per 100,000 people. By 2017, however, it had risen to 14.0. (For comparison, the 2017 suicide rate in Canada per 100,00 was 11.3.) This figure is significantly lower than the Great Depression’s rate of 21.9 per 100,000 in 1932, but the increase is troubling and has ignited efforts to discover the causes and how to prevent it.
US suicide rates https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
Canadian suicide rate https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1310039201
Remembering Roseto, Pennsylvania
At a time of difficulties, when we are facing widespread loneliness, despair, and drug use, Roseto stands as an example of the benefits of a closely-knit community.
Roseto, an isolated community of Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania, became famous in the 1950s and early 60s for its medical mystery. Stewart Wolf, a medical researcher from the University of Oklahoma, learned from a local physician that there didn’t seem to be much heart disease in Roseto. Curious, Wolf spent a month taking blood samples and EKGs, and interviewing most of the residents of the small town. He discovered that even compared with the next-door community of Bangor, few Rosetans had heart problems, the leading cause of death in men under 65. No one died from a heart attack under the age of 55 and few had symptoms of heart disease. The fatality rate of those over 65 from heart disease was half that of the neighboring Bangor. Less well known was the added mystery that Roseto had no addiction problems.
Explaining this was difficult. One hypothesis was that Rosetans had no conflict in their lives. But this was soon ruled out. The neighboring towns were English and German, and there was lots of conflict among the three communities. Another idea was that their diet was a healthy Mediterranean menu. But the Rosetan’s diet was not heart-healthy; 41% of their calories came from lard. Even their version of pizza was thick dough piled with sausage and other fatty meats. After ruling out various other potential causes, Wolf concluded there was something about Roseto, itself.
It turned out that the key was their closely-knit community. No one locked their doors. If a neighbor needed help, everyone simply expected to chip in. This was confirmed as the original residents of Roseto passed away and outsiders began moving in. As more outsiders moved in, the incidence of heart disease (and addiction) increased until it reached the national average.
For those interested in the original research, visit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1695733/
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