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August 20, 2014

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Tough times: Slow recovery in Las Vegas may be factor in suicide increase

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Mike Murphy

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The number for the Nevada Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-877-855-HOPE (4673). More information is available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Firearms in the home, the method used in more than half of suicides
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.

-- Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Few who killed themselves left notes of explanation, but some experts blame the recession for the sharp increase in suicides in Clark County last year.

They say there’s a clear correlation between self-destruction and the devastation recessions bring, such as job loss and home foreclosures, both at record levels in Southern Nevada.

However, history suggests there’s more to the story than recessions. Nevada’s highest suicide rate from 1981 to 2007, the last year for which national data are available, occurred during a recession in 1982. But the state’s suicide rate dropped during another recession in 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are many factors that may increase the risk of suicidal behavior,” CDC spokeswoman Gail Hayes said. “Economic stress or job loss are just two of those factors.”

Other factors Hayes identified are previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, depression, other mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, stressful life event or loss, easy access to lethal methods, incarceration and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.

As Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy has found, less than 30 percent of those who commit suicide leave behind notes, making it hard to determine reasons. His gut tells him there is a connection between suicide and rough economic times.

“I’m not going to tell you that money issues haven’t been a factor because they certainly have,” Murphy said. “It’s just hard to get your head around something that is so illogical.”

His office recorded 346 suicides in 2007, 382 in 2008 when the Great Recession was under way, 359 in 2009 and a jump to 400 last year. Although the recession officially ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., one wouldn’t know it by looking at Las Vegas’ economy, which declined last year.

One academic who has studied suicides in Las Vegas is Matt Wray, assistant sociology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“What we are seeing in Las Vegas in recent years is a strong statistical signal that the unprecedented four-year decline in Las Vegas is resulting in more suicides,” he said. “It may continue to do so until the unemployment and foreclosure crises pass. Or it may reach a plateau and level off.

“We ought to act on ... the idea that suicides are preventable and that we live in a time of heightened vulnerability, especially among the middle-aged and elderly, who often feel the effects of recessions more acutely,” he said.

The unemployed are two to three times more likely than employed people to commit suicide, but the risk also increases for those who hold jobs during a recession because they have a greater chance of experiencing financial or mental health strains or fear they’ll join the unemployed, Wray said.

“There is very good evidence nationally and internationally that recessions are correlated with increased suicide rates,” Wray said. “Interestingly, suicide rates increase during times of economic boom as well. It’s during periods of slow, stable growth that suicide rates remain stable.”

People are at greater risk of killing themselves in good times if they feel left behind by the boom period or if the resulting population growth stretches basic health and social services too thin for new residents, Wray said.

“Sudden and dramatic population growth can weaken supportive networks of friends, family and neighbors that would provide support in times of personal difficulty,” he said.

But does one factor push someone over the edge more than any other?

Wray said he didn’t know.

“Job loss, mounting debt, losing one’s home or marriage, these can all be tightly related to one another and often occur together, creating a chain of adversity that overwhelms individuals in recessionary times,” he said.

In 1982, when Nevada led the nation with a suicide rate of 28.8 per 100,000 residents, the country was in a recession that lasted from July 1981 to December 1982. The state’s unemployment rate averaged 9.9 percent in 1982, which wasn’t topped until 2009.

After Nevada’s suicide rate dipped to 22.6 in 1989, it crept up to 24.1 in 1990 and 24.6 in 1991, overlapping the recession that extended from July 1990 to March 1991.

But in the mid-1990s, Nevada’s rate began declining for unknown reasons and fell to 18.5 in 2001, despite a recession aggravated by the 9/11 attacks. The state’s unemployment rate was just 5.3 percent, higher than the previous five years but lower than in 2002. By 2007, Nevada’s suicide rate dropped to 18.3 but was still fifth highest nationally.

In Clark County, the rate last year was 20.5 per 100,000, based on 400 suicides and a population of 1.95 million.

National rates provide mixed signals on the correlation between suicides and poor economies. The U.S. suicide rate was 12.2 in the second year of the 1981-82 recession but rose to 12.9 in 1986, long after that recession ended. After dipping to 12.25 in 1989, it rose to 12.4 in 1990, coinciding with the beginning of the 1990-91 recession. But the 10.7 rate during the 2001 recession was exceeded the next several years.

“As for the national data, there is no correlation between recessions and suicide, but there is between unemployment and suicide,” said Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, which promotes suicide research and prevention programs. “As for Nevada’s data, given the months of the recession, you would have expected an uptick (in suicides) in 2009 if there was a clear association.

“This is not to say that loss of job, loss of income, loss of status, foreclosed homes, etc., do not destroy one’s ego, do not bring on shame and humiliation that will tear at the soul of those vulnerable,” he said.

Berman’s association says on its website that “when combined with the loss of job, home loss has been found to be one of the most common economic strains associated with suicides. In contrast to many other developed nations, the U.S. provides little cushion to buffer these strains. Unemployment benefits are generally limited in duration and are considerably less than full-pay levels ...”

Two economists, Timothy Classen of Loyola University in Chicago and Richard Dunn of Texas A&M University found last year that there is a relationship between job loss and suicide. They studied data from 1996 to 2005, when unemployment benefits typically ran out after 26 weeks.

“We have found some evidence that the increase in suicides following mass layoffs occurs about six months after the job loss, which is also around the time that unemployment insurance benefits expire,” Classen said. “This suggests to us that the financial constraint placed on families when unemployment insurance benefits expire may be the more compelling explanation for suicides occurring as a result of job separations, rather than the immediate effect of job loss.

“Obviously, job loss and general economic conditions have large effects throughout communities as you are likely witnessing in Nevada. Job losses lead to lower incomes, which lead to inability to pay off mortgages, which leads to foreclosures, which lead to the dissolution of social networks, which may also result in higher suicide rates.”

But Linda Flatt, facilitator for the Nevada suicide prevention office in Las Vegas, cautioned against making too much of a possible relationship between suicide and the recession.

“It’s something that is so complex,” Flatt said. “We have to look at suicide as a multifaceted issue. It’s not only about the economy. We don’t want suicide to be an option for someone having economic problems.”

Anyone who needs help is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll free at 1-800-273-8255. Flatt also recommended that individuals consult their physicians or seek counseling.

Other options available in Las Vegas include Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, Montevista Hospital and Spring Mountain Treatment Center.

Wray said “if a family member, friend, classmate or colleague appears to be stressed and depressed, consider asking them if they have ever thought about harming themselves. If the answer is yes, or an unconvincing no, convince them that help is available and refer them to a person or agency that can help.”

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  1. The "loss of income" means they can't get the medical and dental care that was once available.

    In all of these discussions and information gathering on suicides, there is a lack of medical/dental status that goes with the coroner's report, but perhaps the reason is that information takes hours and days to track down - hours that budgets don't allow.

    A person with severe pain or continual low level infections that diminish their ability to move around, or experience any form of enjoyment, can fall into despondency that might lead to suicide.

    There is a point at which daily, unavoidable physical pain prevents a person from getting another job, even if it were there. Nutrition, exercise all drop to new lows and even short moments of happiness disappear altogether.

    Last year, some people in Congress wanted to change that, now others are working to reverse those changes in the name of America. Too bad.

  2. Suicide. All part of Nature's plan to see that only the fittest survive. I have no problem with people choosing to kill themselves as long as they don't commit mass murder first. After all, if the pinko-leftists believe it's okay to kill the unborn, why should they butt-in when a grown man or woman makes the decision to end his/her own life? Are they only for "pro-choice" when it meets their wacko agenda? Hey, wait, that's it exactly!

  3. I didn't notice any relation to suicide by the many people who get buried in debt by over gambling and getting strung out in pay day loan joints which there are one or two on every street in Las Vegas..Just wondering..

  4. It's the Mother that decides to kill the unborn, not the pinko-leftists. She can do it with a coat hanger or other such tool as well..a doctor is not needed, nor is a law.

    If she gave birth she'd probably let the baby die in it's crib so better to prevent a bigger disaster upfront. Is it noble to give birth, then turn the kid out on the street for prostitution or working late hours washing dishes?

    But what is the 'unborn', 10 cells, 100? 1000? Is contraception abortion? Tell us more about the future of Baby Factories Gone Wild.

  5. It's amazing how quickly these comments go wildly off track.

    Suicide is a sad commentary on individuals who cannot see any other way to wrestle control of their destiny. If you can't take the heat, perhaps it's time to get out of Las Vegas.

  6. Hey FINK...
    You again show that you are a sorry excuse for a member of our society. Horrible. I would feel sorry for you, but it wouldn't help; I feel sorry for anyone associated with you.

    The fact that Las Vegas has a high suicide rate related to it's financial fiasco is of absolutely no surprise to anyone with a functioning brain under their cranium.

    Cutting FUNDING for COMPULSIVE GAMBLERS will most assuredly lead to more despair. SHAME.

    If you actually READ THE STORIES associated with the reports of the many suicides/murder-suicides over the last couple of years here in the valley, you got a real understanding of the various ways that the collapse affected AVERAGE, WORKING-CLASS PEOPLE.
    Here in this Godforsaken City of Sin, people in crisis are very often left "out in the cold". Resources are SCARCE and getting scarcer. When folks find themselves at the end of their proverbial ropes, THERE IS NO SAFETY NET... so they just "let go".
    People like FINK are NOT scarce in this city.
    They hate, they wallow in misery, and they insist on sharing their venom with the rest of us. They complain endlessly about "commie liberals" and "stupid demoncraps" and insist that Fox "news" is the absolute authority on what's "Right for America"... like CHEERING when fellow human beings become SO COMPLETELY BEREFT OF HOPE AND HELP, THEY KILL THEMSELVES.
    Enjoy your day, FINK.

  7. I agree with gmag39 that Jerry is a poor excuse of a human being but I am not surprised at how sociopathic he is given his posting history. The jump in suicides reflects our mania for associating self worth and worth to others with monetary income. When your identity is wrapped up this way it would be amazing if suicides hadn't gone up in the last three years.

  8. Everyone has their destiny with death. How, where, why and when is a mystery. Hopefully you don't suffer too long when you meet your fate. Every day is a "gift." It's the loved ones left behind that have to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild their lives.

  9. The recession ended in June 2009? That was the very same day the depression began. Nothing is gettin better,...and the suicides will continue as our government continues to run amok. Soon Grandma won't need to off herself,...the Republicons are either gonna freeze or starve her anyway. In America today money flows only towards the Republicons and if someone needs help or assistance that takes money from them, they need to die,...its the Sarah Show Pony death panel,...just modified for today.

    When people are under pressure,...and both parties in our government are responsible for most of todays PRESSURE, it defeats and deflates the human
    being into seeing no other way out. I've read accounts from Chicago papers about an increase
    in suicide by train. They just let the locomotive take care of their problems. They probably lost their car,...house forclosed on,...no job perhaps? Running the car in the garage isn't an option for them.

    Our country is in a race to the bottom. Were divided at a time when thats the last thing we need. This article cites many statistics,...many ideas,...many thoughts and best guesses on the topic,...but when people are painted in a corner as millions are,...we should all be surprised the numbers aren't higher.

  10. pgctg141 aja Kevin

    Unfortunately, your post comes closest to hitting the nail on the head. I saw on the news yesterday that if both parties in Washington can't come to a compromise on the country's debt - the results are going to be horrific for the country, mainly AGAIN those who least can afford it. It brought my mood straight down because what the F are people going to do???? Unemployment will stop, the seniors' social security will be DEcreased, Medicare and Medicaid will be cut so not only the elderly will suffer but those young and old with chronic illness will suffer. The list goes on and on. And for all you Tea Partiers - you TOO will get hit in the form of losing lots of money in the stock market aka losing your 401K money and possibly your jobs. We'll see how those idiots you voted into office are going to save you.

    Las Vegas is only ONE city that was studied; this crap is happening all over the country and it's only going to get worse. It's starting now with people having a rough time putting gas in their cars. By July 4, our economy is going to take a a downhill slide again after slowly getting better and this time there may be no recovery in sight.