The Associated Press is reporting some grim suicide numbers in North Dakota which show a 70% spike among those aged 35-64, an increase nearly double the national average of 28%:
A federal study says North Dakota had 1 of the nation’s highest increases in the suicide rate among middle-aged people in the past decade.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the national suicide rate for ages 35 to 64 jumped 28% from 1999 to 2010. It rose by 70% for that age group in North Dakota.
Democrat Senator Tim Mathern was quick to blame the oil boom:
State Sen. Tim Mathern of Fargo says he thinks the increase is due to a lack of adequate treatment and stress among military veterans and those displaced by development in North Dakota’s oil patch.
Is Mathern right? Are hardships brought on by the oil boom driving people to suicide?
I think that’s a conclusion driven more by politics than facts. The spike in suicides among middle-aged Americans is a national issue, not something isolated to North Dakota. According to the CDC study, “Traditionally, suicide prevention efforts have been focused mostly on youths and older adults, but recent evidence suggests that there have been substantial increases in suicide rates among middle-aged adults in the United States.”
Of course, that doesn’t explain why North Dakota’s spike is so much larger than the national average, but it’s worth noting that other states had an increase similar to North Dakota’s. Rhode Island, for instance, saw a 69% increase in suicides in this age demographic.
Now, Rhode Island doesn’t have an oil boom like North Dakota, so why would both states see and disproportionate increase compared to the rest of the country?
Probably because of age demographics. Like North Dakota, Rhode Island’s population skews toward middle age. Or the exact demographic in which these suicides are spiking.
Both North Dakota and Rhode Island rank near the top of the scale on the “elderly states” list. So the reason for the large spike in middle-age suicides in North Dakota and Rhode Island probably has a lot to do with each state having large numbers of people that age.
There’s never just one explanation for a suicide, of course, but leaping to the conclusion that the oil boom is driving suicide is just petty, irresponsible politics.
The real question is, why are so many middle-age citizens killing themselves all over the country?