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?


ken said...

Hmmmm... I wonder what the drug & alcohol abuse rates are, and how well it correlates to this.

Karlacita! said...

Gun ownership? Are there data on the methods of suicide?

Interesting fact: In most cases, the suicide rate is double the homicide rate, but people don't know that.

So when I'm in a high crime area, I can laugh and know that I'm twice as dangerous to myself as any thug might be!

It's kind of heartwarming when you think of it that way.

Matty Boy said...

Ken: good question about alcohol and drugs. I don't know if it is significantly different in the Western mountains.

Karlacita!: Guns are definitely a reason why men have a higher successful suicide rate than women. Women attempt suicide about three times more often than men, but men are nearly three times more successful.

Male suicide is a bigger problem than homicide in most places, but feamle suicide is much lower than homicide. Of all the places that report it and the rates are not tiny (less than 1 per 100,000 population), only China has female suicide rates that rival the male rates.

FranIAm said...

This is at once - thought provoking and chilling.


dguzman said...

Hey, I'd kill myself if I had to live in Utah too.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of cases where suicide is called something else or it's not known if it was suicide or not. I have no idea what the qualifications were for this map but I don't accept it as the whole truth on the subject. Not that that matters but that's my dos centavos.