Massachusetts suicide rate continues to climb

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STATE HOUSE — More Massachusetts residents committed suicide in 2013 than died as a result of car crashes and homicides combined, and yet the state has one of the lowest suicide rates in the country, according to the latest data from the Department of Public Health.

The 585 suicides in Massachusetts during 2013 was a decrease from the previous year, but was still higher than in almost every year since at least 2003. The total also put the state at a rate of 8.7 suicides for every 100,000 people, a rate that has increased by an average of 3.6 percent each year since the state began using a sophisticated system to collect suicide data in 2003, DPH said in a report ordered by legislators and filed last week.

“Similar to what has been happening in the whole of the U.S., the rate has been going up and the number has been going up,” said Alan Holmlund, director of the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Program. “And similarly to the nation, the group that we’ve identified as driving the increases is the same: middle-aged white men in particular.”

The great majority of suicide victims in 2013 were male (76 percent) and 57 percent of suicides were among people ages 35 to 64.

Forty-nine percent of all suicides in Massachusetts in 2013 were by hanging or suffocation, followed by poisoning and firearms, which each accounted for 20 percent of suicides in 2013. Massachusetts is one of the few states, Holmlund said, where firearms are responsible for fewer than half of all suicides.

Though Middlesex County had the highest number of suicides in 2013 (112), Berkshire County had the highest rate of suicides, with 17.7 suicides for every 100,000 residents.

Despite the increases in the suicide rate, Holmlund said Massachusetts has one of the lowest suicide rates of any state in the country.

“One reason for that is the fact that most of the state is fairly densely populated and we have pretty easy access to emergency medical care…we believe that there are people that are saved because of interventions that occur by our emergency medical personnel,” he said. “We have lower household gun ownership … and our mental health system, as much as we complain sometimes about access to mental health services, we are so far ahead of many, many states.”

Massachusetts has also had a suicide prevention program for more than a decade, he said, which has allowed the state to fund suicide awareness and prevention efforts.

“One of the things we’ve done fairly recently is establish a campaign that is reaching out directly to the population of middle-aged men and providing them with resources when they are in need,” Holmlund said. “It’s kind of a tounge-in-cheek effort to reach out to men we know we are not reaching.”

The campaign, featured on, allows men to take an anonymous online mental health screening and links to a program called “Mantherapy” and features the fictitious Dr. Rich Mahogany who uses “manly techniques” to provide “gentlemental” health resources to men.

The report was mandated by a 2014 gun violence prevention law that called on DPH to collect and analyze information on suicides, including the circumstances associated with suicides — like whether a victim had a history of mental illness, was being treated for a mental health issue or had attempted suicide before.

The law also requires DPH to record and report on the origin of the means of the suicide, whether the means was legally obtained and how much time passed between the victim obtaining the means and committing suicide.

Once all that information is available — the data on 2013 suicides was being collected before the bill was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014 — DPH and others will be able to further tailor awareness and prevention efforts.

“We hope it will give us some indication of some policies we can recommend or strategies we can employ that we’re not now using that will make a difference,” Holmlund said.

— Written by Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service