Health Buzz: Happy States Have High Suicide Rates

How to identify suicide risk before it's too late; parents are often clueless to suicide risk factors.

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Study: Some of the Happiest Places Have the Highest Suicide Rates

If you're down in the dumps, stay away from the happy states. Researchers who analyze how people's sense of well-being varies from place to place compared their findings to suicide rates, and found that those living in the happiest states may be more likely to kill themselves. Four of the states that rank in the top 10 for well-being also rank in the top 10 for suicide rate: Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado. Utah, for example, tops the life satisfaction list, but also grapples with the 9th-highest suicide rate. And while New York ranks a low 45th in well-being, its suicide rate is an even-lower 50th, according to the report, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. That could be because people surrounded by others who are unhappy don't feel so bad for themselves, the researchers speculate. Living around people who are satisfied with their lives, on the other hand, can make you feel even more miserable. "If you're unhappy there, you conclude, 'something must be really wrong with me,' or 'nothing will make me happy,' so you're more likely to get depressed and take your life," Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California--Riverside, told the Associated Press.

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  • How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late

    Every 17 minutes, someone dies by suicide in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death for Americans, and while it often comes as a surprise to friends and loved ones, it is largely considered to be preventable if warning signs are heeded. "The tragedy of completed suicide is that most could have been prevented if family members knew what to look for," says Lisa Boesky, a psychologist and author of When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help—And What to Do About It. "Research shows that most people who die by suicide have a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, or [have] a substance abuse problem, or both," either diagnosed or undiagnosed, she says.

    Suicide has no "face," no race, no age or income level that indicates who is at risk. Often, experts say, it's a stressful or negative event that drives a person already struggling with depression to harm himself—including bad breakups, financial problems, or loss of a job or home. Such events can be a "very high-risk time," Boesky says. So the optimal way to intervene is to encourage a depressed person to get treatment early on. But because depression can bring a feeling of hopelessness, those affected sometimes don't believe that getting proper treatment will make them feel better, says Jeffrey Borenstein, a psychiatrist and CEO and medical director of Holliswood Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Queens, N.Y. If people with depression get help, he says, "they can regain their health and live a full, healthy life." [Read more: How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late.]

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    • Teen Suicide Risk Factors: Parents Are Too Often Clueless

      Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers, and it's a tragedy that can be prevented. Given that almost 15 percent of high school students say they've seriously considered suicide in the past year, parents and friends need to know how to recognize when a teenager is in trouble and how to help.

      Parents can be clueless when it comes to recognizing suicide risk factors, or at least more clueless than teens. In a survey of teenagers and parents in Chicago and in the Kansas City, Kan., area, published online last year in Pediatrics, both parents and teenagers said that teen suicide was a problem, but not in their community. Alas, teen suicide is a universal problem; no area is immune.

      The teenagers correctly said that drug and alcohol use was a big risk factor for suicide, with some even noting that drinking and drug use could be a form of self-medication or self-harm. By contrast, many of the parents shrugged off substance abuse as acceptable adolescent behavior. As one parent told the researchers: "Some parents smoke pot with their kids or allow their kids to drink."