Policy Analysis | August 2018

Suicide Rates in the South

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

In June 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report documenting the high – and growing – number of suicides across the United States. In 2016, the last year for which the CDC has comprehensive data, 45,000 people died by suicide, an increase of 25.4 percent over 1999 levels. Nevada, where deaths by suicide were down 1 percent between 1999-2016, was the only state that did not experience an increase during this period.

Seven of the 15 states in the South, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia, experienced increases in suicide rates between 1999-2016 that were higher than the national average of 25.4 percent. The remaining seven states in the region were below the average, from a high of 24.2 percent in Tennessee, to a low of 10.6 percent in Florida.

Among Southern states, Oklahoma had the highest number of deaths by suicide per capita in 2016, with 21 per 100,000, followed by West Virginia, Missouri and Arkansas, all of which were among the top 15 nationally in this category. Meanwhile, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas had the fewest number of suicides per 100,000 in the South, with rates of 13.0, 12.7 and 12.6, respectively. The national average was 13.5 deaths by suicide per 100,000, a number surpassed by 10 states in the SLC region.

There are many factors that can cause a person to consider suicide, including relationship problems, substance abuse disorders, financial difficulties, deterioration in physical health, personal crises, legal problems and loss of housing. Additionally, approximately 46 percent of suicide cases in 2016 included individuals with known mental health conditions.

State and local leaders have multiple options at their disposal to mitigate the rise in suicides, including expanding temporary assistance to those struggling financially due to job loss or other hardship, providing mental health access in all communities, ensuring as many individuals as possible have accessible healthcare options, and encouraging schools to promote education that can help students address the many challenges they might encounter now and in the future.

Deaths by Suicide 2016
Ranking State Total Number of Suicides 2016 Suicide Rate per 100,000 People 2016 Suicide Rate Percent Change 1999-2016
1 North Dakota 140 19.0 57.6
2 Vermont 118 17.3 48.6
3 New Hampshire 244 17.2 48.3
4 Utah 620 21.8 46.5
5 Kansas 514 17.9 45.0
6 South Dakota 163 20.2 44.5
7 Idaho 351 21.4 43.2
8 Minnesota 745 13.2 40.6
9 Wyoming 144 25.2 39.0
10 South Carolina 815 15.7 38.3
11 Montana 267 25.9 38.0
12 Oklahoma 822 21.0 37.6
13 Alaska 193 25.8 37.4
14 West Virginia 362 19.3 37.1
15 Arkansas 555 18.2 36.8
16 Kentucky 756 16.8 36.6
17 Missouri 1,133 18.4 36.4
18 Iowa 451 14.6 36.2
19 Ohio 1,707 14.2 36.0
20 Massachusetts 631 8.8 35.3
21 Pennsylvania 1,970 14.7 34.3
22 Colorado 1,168 20.5 34.1
23 Rhode Island 126 11.2 34.1
24 Michigan 1,364 13.3 32.9
25 Indiana 1,034 15.4 31.9
26 Louisiana 677 14.2 29.3
27 New York 1,679 8.1 28.8
28 Oregon 772 17.8 28.2
29 Maine 226 15.9 27.4
30 Wisconsin 866 14.7 25.8
31 Tennessee 1,111 16.3 24.2
32 Illinois 1,415 10.7 22.8
33 Alabama 788 15.7 21.9
34 Connecticut 397 10.1 19.2
35 New Jersey 687 7.2 19.2
36 Texas 3,488 12.6 18.9
37 Washington 1,141 14.9 18.8
39 New Mexico 471 22.5 18.3
38 Hawaii 174 12.1 18.3
40 Mississippi 383 12.7 17.8
41 Virginia 1,166 13.2 17.4
42 Arizona 1,271 17.7 17.3
43 Georgia 1,409 13.3 16.2
44 Nebraska 246 13.1 16.2
45 California 4,294 10.5 14.8
46 North Carolina 1,373 13.0 12.7
47 Florida 3,143 14.0 10.6
48 Maryland 586 9.4 8.5
49 Delaware 119 11.5 5.9
50 Nevada 650 21.4 -1.0

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Mortality by State;
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Rates Across the U.S., 1999-2016