suicide numbers

Boyd Packer Homosexuality

I posted HRC’s press conference video on my Facebook page and it lead to a fun debate with some Mormon friends. In that debate, someone demanded I provide “evidence” that Packer’s views lead to violence. I, of course, clarified that I didn’t say it led to direct violence against homosexuals (though it may, but I have no evidence of that). What is an accurate statement, however, is that views like Packer’s have lead to Mormons, particularly young Mormons, killing themselves. That, of course, is a form of violence, self-violence, so in a sense there is evidence for this. Anyway, to support my claim, I turned to the “high suicide rates” in Utah argument. Then I realized that I didn’t actually have the numbers to back that up, I had just heard it lots of times in places like MSP. So, I went digging. Guess what I found? Here are suicide rates for Utah and the U.S. side-by-side:

Suicide Rates for U.S. and Utah, 1999-2007 (all mechanisms).
U.S. Utah
All ages (rates age adjusted) 11.1 15.3
All ages (crude) 11.2 14.1
0-17 1.3 1.3
0-4
5-17 1.8 1.9
5-14 0.6 *
15-17 5.5 7
18+ (rates age adjusted) 14.5 20.1
18+ (crude) 14.5 19.8
18-44 13.5 19.4
18-24 11.9 16.8
25-44 14 20.6
45-64 16.1 22
65+ (rates age adjusted) 14.4 16.1
65+ (crude) 14.4 16.2
65-74 12.6 13.4
75-84 16.3 17.9
85+ 16.1 22.7

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hdi.htm (search for “suicide” then click on the bottom table labeled: Injury mortality: US/State, 1999-2007 (Source:NVSS))

Of course, my Mormon friends simply dismissed these numbers as “correlation not causation,” meaning this is just a correlation between lots of Mormons living in Utah and suicide rates and may not necessarily be “caused” by views like Packer’s. That’s true. In fact, there is a little bit of evidence to support that in that most of the states with really high suicide rates all surround Utah (with the exceptions of West Virginia and Alaska):

map of suicide rates

So, is this a Mormon thing or an Intermountain West thing or what? I can’t say. But I can say that there are too many young Mormons who are committing suicide because their religion rejects them, and that is causation, not correlation.

12 thoughts on “suicide numbers

  1. I’ve heard that high suicide rates in America generally correlate with high rates of gun ownership. The idea is that since guns are a particularly effective way of killing oneself, more guns lead to a higher number of “successful” suicide attempts.

    I understand that both gun ownership and suicide rates in Utah are similar to those in surrounding states. So possibly if we could unpack the data and examine it in more detail, we would find something, but the broad statistical data don’t ‘t seem to support the idea of Mormons or Mormon youth as particularly likely to commit suicide.

    Of course, that’s not to say that church teachings never contribute to suicides — we know anecdotally that they do in some cases — and especially not to say that even one suicide isn’t too many.

  2. Kuri — I just saw a really interesting discussion of that point the other day here. It was a discussion of whether the higher rate of successful suicide attempts was an argument for gun control. (And the discussion devolved into an amusing tangent about whether or not it’s crazy to think it’s a good idea to have a gun to defend your house.)

  3. The statistics are sobering. I wonder if there are other things (for mormons in Utah) that come into play – desire to go on a mission/not go on a mission. It does seem like over 18, and then over 25 are significant.

    Without question, I think the mental health community needs to be more trained/able to help young people. In particular, young LGBT people – I’m not sure how many therapists/psychiatrists, etc. have a specialty in issues surrounding the stigma (as Andrew points out) of being LGBT in our society. Perhaps it’s just early in the morning and I’m not able to write a coherent comment – but I think we could be doing much more. Regardless of outside factors (like what LDS General Authorities say) – more could be done for people who are suffering.

  4. Just wanted to clarify – I am not suggesting at all that being gay is a mental illness. Only suggesting that LGBT teens face an incredible battle – sometimes including self-hatred. Anything that can increase self-acceptance is a good thing and sometimes CBT or psychotherapy can help that. Also figuring out how to relate to the various people in one’s life – with or without their acceptance of one being LGBT.

    It’s true, the relationship of the mental health community has not always been positive to the LGBT community. But I think now there is more acceptance and an ability to serve/help the population(s).

  5. Unless you have a graph that shows LGBT suicide instead of just suicide, I don’t think the statistics are all the helpful. Rather, I think a link can be shown by pointing to ideas like “same-gender attraction” being “repaired” in Heaven, which points to the idea that it’s better on the other side as opposed to here where everyone had to reach out and “help” because of your predestined loneliness and disability. (Or…you continue along the line of Packer who talks about “change.”)

    What I think is important to recognize here with LGBT LDS suicides is that because of the close-knittedness of Mormon families, it’s very likely that these suicides are not of the anomic kind (where a person has no contacts), but of the altruistic kind (where you kill yourself for the good of the group). The idea that Mormons throw their gay kids out onto the streets at the first sign of transgression and that’s how they die, I don’t think is as accurate anymore. Instead, these young people are lonely even when they’re surrounded with “love”–it’s the love that makes them feel so badly when they “transgress” or thinking about transgressing–so they begin to think it’s all them. I’ve heard it described as a spiritual co-dependency that creates a situation of communal guiltlessness when someone does take their life. “Oh, we didn’t love them enough” or “Oh, they were weak, which no one could have helped.”

    This is why there’s such an emphasis these days on the gay person in the Church being helpful and have a spot within the Church. If you feel sad over this issue, I genuinely believe a lot of wards will bend backgrounds to give you callings to make you happy, hoping that you’ll pick up the slack. The reality is that most gay people simply leave the Church, particularly if they have non-Mormon contacts that tell them it’s better on the outside. Those who don’t leave…well, we know that story.

  6. The CDC has an online database of injury deaths called
    WISQARS. According to this database, Utahs ranked 8th for suicide among males 15-24 for the years 2000-2004. (Other groupings of years or ages may be queried by the user.) The annual rates per 100,000 for the top 10 states were:

    Alaska 53.98
    New Mexico 34.64
    Wyoming 32.40
    Montana 30.99
    South Dakota 28.59
    Idaho 27.44
    Arizona 27.29
    Utah 24.26
    West Virginia 23.43
    Colorado 23.30

    Utah does have a high rate of suicide for young males, similar to, but lower than most of its neighboring states.

  7. Something to consider when comparing suicide rates among the states is race. Nationally, the rate for Native American males between ages 25-64 is 29.4 per 100,000, and for whites the rate is almost as high at 27.4. Rates for blacks, hispanics, and Asian men in that age bracket are 12.7, 11.1, and 9.5

  8. @aerin
    It is true that Psychiatry did consider Homosexuality a disorder, now I believe the DSM does not include it at all, at least not as a disorder.
    @profxm
    Naturally, there is not proof to infer that suicide rates are high in Utah because of Mormonism. Correlation does not equal causation, but all third variables aside, there is certainly enough cause to warrant serious studies on Suicide and depression in the LDS community. Maybe there is serious work being done now, but just a year ago the only article I found was from BYU that looked at suicide among teens who left the LDS church. They seemed to conclude that the leaving the church was what caused the suicide. hmm

  9. profxm- I don’t have the article anymore. When I did the search I was looking specifically for depression in Utah; I assumed that with the large number of specifically LDS psychologists that there might be some research focused on the LDS community.
    At the time my search only netted two Journal articles. You may have read the same one.

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