Suicides rose in Minnesota in 2017 with an alarming increase in men taking their own lives, but fewer suicides among women.
Those findings were released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, along with a plea from the state health commissioner to halt a decadeslong trend of rising suicide numbers by increasing public awareness, mental health treatment and prevention programs.
“Suicides are preventable and depression and other mental illnesses that often contribute to suicidal behavior are treatable,” Commissioner Jan Malcolm wrote in her public message. “Suicide is not inevitable.”
The 783 suicides in Minnesota last year represented a 5 percent increase since 2016 and a 79 percent increase since 1999. The state’s suicide rate has historically been lower than the national rate, but that gap has been closing.
Suicide rates are growing nationally among white adults, American Indians and rural residents but the reasons are unclear. And Minnesota has ample populations of all three.
The increase in the state suicide rate was sharper last year for men in the metro area, but still higher among rural men.
Calls for mental health crisis response have increased over the past two years in Thief River Falls, where farmers and ranchers have struggled with everything from bad markets, to generational conflicts with children over staying on family farms, to Norwegian stoicism that makes it difficult to discuss their stresses.
“The crisis in the farming and ranching community is one of the contributing factors” to the rural suicide rate, said Sarah Lefebvre, who manages the crisis response program for the Sanford Medical Clinic in Thief River Falls, which also opened a stand-alone mental health hospital three years ago.
Increases in suicides in recent years had mostly been among older adults, while the rate among teens had been stable. But suicides among Minnesotans aged 15 to 18 increased from 32 in 2016 to 43 last year, according to updated mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some public health officials feared such an increase was due in part to the 2017 debut of the “13 Reasons Why” series on Netflix that explored youth suicides in intense detail. Solutions can’t focus too much on one media phenomenon or issue, though, said Dan Reidenberg of SAVE, a national suicide prevention program based in Minnesota.
More money is needed to fund public awareness, prevention and mental health care, he said.
“The bottom line is that we have a problem with suicide in our state. It’s in the top 10 leading causes of death, and it needs to be treated that way. Currently, it’s not.”
Suicides declined 10 percent among women in Minnesota, whose means were more likely to involve poison or strangulation, according to a state data brief that was released Monday in conjunction with the commissioners’ message. But suicides increased 9 percent among men, who were more likely to use firearms. Roughly 78 percent of firearms-related deaths in the state last year were suicides.
Several studies have shown that restrictions such as locking bullets and guns in separate locations can be effective in preventing youth suicides and discouraging people until their transient urges to hurt themselves pass.
Reidenberg said they can work for adults as well, and that he recently talked with a man who was suffering depression and gave the keys to his gun cabinet to his wife.
“It is really more about restricting access at the moment of crisis,” he said, “than it is around permanent restrictions.”
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744