By Helen Gibson
Tuesday afternoon, as social media users scrolled through their Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines, many were met with a surprising piece of news.
Kate Spade, the iconic fashion designer and founder of the eponymous company, was found dead in her New York apartment following an apparent suicide.
Spade’s death, along with the popularity of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, is a tragic and painful reminder of suicide’s prevalence in our society.
As we grapple with this reality, here are some important facts and statistics to keep in mind.
1. Suicide is alarmingly prevalent.
The National Institute of Mental Health calls suicide “a major public health concern.”
Suicide claimed the lives of just under 45,000 Americans in 2016, the most recent year such statistics are available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This averages out to about 123 suicide deaths in the U.S. for each day of 2016.
Suicide was listed as the second leading cause of death among people 10 to 34 years old. Among people ages 35 to 54, it was listed as the fourth leading cause of death, according to CDC data.
2. Churches aren’t immune to suicide.
About 1 in 3 churchgoers (32 percent) say a close friend or family member has died of suicide, according to a 2017 survey of 1,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers conducted by Lifeway Research.
More than 3 in 4 churchgoers (76 percent) say suicide is a problem that needs to be addressed in their community.
3. Over a 17-year period, the suicide rate increased significantly. And the suicide rate is higher among men than women.
From 1999 to 2016, the total suicide rate increased 28 percent, according to 2016 CDC data analyzed by the National Institute of Mental Health.
The suicide rate was also nearly four times higher for males than for females.
4. Mental illness—which can lead to suicide—can be hard to detect, even within the church.
One in 5 U.S. adults lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is important to note as 90 percent of those who commit suicide live with mental illness, according to information on the website for National Alliance on Mental Illness.
However, the warning signs of mental illness may be hard to detect — so much so that church leaders and members may not see them.
About a third of churchgoers (35 percent) with a friend or family member who committed suicide say the victim had attended church at least monthly in the months before their death, according to the 2017 Lifeway Research survey. However, the respondents of this survey say few knew of the struggles their friend or family member faced — including only 4 percent of church leaders and 4 percent of fellow church members.
5. Suicide affects black children at a rate higher than white children.
Suicide among children ages 5 to 12 is rare but not unheard of. And, according to recent research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, it is about twice as common among black children than among white children.
While suicide rates have traditionally been understood as being higher among white individuals than others, this research shows the need for a more nuanced view of racial disparities in regard to suicide, the lead author of the study told The Washington Post.
6. Church leaders can do better in addressing suicide and mental illness.
Few churchgoers say their church is hostile toward conversations about mental health, the 2017 Lifeway Research survey notes. And 84 percent of churchgoers say churches should provide resources to those struggling with mental illnesses and their families.
However, barriers to helpful conversations about suicide and mental illness persist. More than half (55 percent) of churchgoers say people in their community are more likely to gossip about suicide than to help a family dealing with a suicide, while relatively low numbers of churchgoers say their church leaders have addressed suicide.
This includes 24 percent of churchgoers who say in the past year their church has shared a testimony of someone struggling with suicide and mental illness and 22 percent who say their church has used sermons to address issues that increase the risk of suicide.
Even fewer churchgoers say that their church has taught the church’s beliefs about suicide (13 percent), that their church has trained leaders to identify suicide risk factors (14 percent), and that their church has shared reminders about national resources for suicide prevention (13 percent).
Note: If you (or someone you know) are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support.
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Kentucky.