Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The suicide map
You may have already seen this map before, as it has been published in several places around the internet. It shows pictorially where male suicides are most prevalent in the Lower 48. The data is nearly twenty years old, but looking at tables from more recent years, the general pattern on a state by state level hasn't changed much. If they were pictured, Hawaii would be very blue and Alaska would be very red. Depending on the year reported, Alaska is often the number one suicide state, and is rarely below the ranking of three.
In the darkest red areas, male suicide rates rival the scariest murder rates of any urban area. As the legend on the map states, the regions are health services areas, so I would assume most data is collected by county. Since the colors are red and blue, it would be easy to make a red state/blue state comparison, but that is not a very good correlation. The Southeast of the U.S. is very Republican, and it's a little redder than the largely Democratic Northeast, but it a very pale pink compared the dark red West. This might be attributed to sparsely populated states, but that doesn't quite explain it either. Note that the deep red slash in the inland West doesn't include the sparsely populated Dakotas or Nebraska or Kansas or Oklahoma, but Colorado is definitely in the red area, and it is much more densely populated than most of the states that don't border the Pacific but are west of the Mississippi.
The very large red region best corresponds to the Sierras and the Rockies, the two great mountain ranges and the lonesome land in between them. There is a reddish area that spills out of the Rockies to Sierras region up in northern California and southern Oregon, an area dominated by forests and parts of the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges. All these areas are generally considered beautiful, and photographers have taken many famous pictures in this dark red region which show the majesty of the territory. To my mind, most of this land is much prettier than the west of Kansas or Nebraska where the people are not as prone to suicide. But living in these wild, lovely, lonely places makes men in particular much more likely to kill themselves, a death rate that compares to the murder rates found in the worst urban regions, where the violence is blamed on many causes, not least of which is the scourge of illegal drugs.
Any ideas why?