Anatomy of Suicide

September 25, 1963

Report Outline
Suicide as Problem of Public Health
Historical Roots of Suicide Question
Efforts to Reduce the Suicide Toll

Suicide as Problem of Public Health

Gravity of Suicide Problem in United States

At least 20,000 Americans will take their own lives in the next 12 months, and 100,000 to 200,000 others will make serious but unsuccessful attempts to do so. Louis I. Dublin, medical statistician, has estimated that possibly as many as two million individuals now living in the United States have tried at some time to commit suicide. Despite this shocking state of affairs, there is widespread apathy about the problem, both on the part of the public and within the medical profession. Because the facts about suicide—its prevalence and the possibilities of cutting down its toll—are not well known, experts on the subject are trying to spread this message: The great majority of suicides and suicide attempts are the product of emotional states which are only temporary and which are remediable.

Suicide rates have fluctuated widely in this country in the past 60 years. The rate rose from 11.3 per 100,000 population in 1900 to 18.6 per 100,000 in 1908, the year following a severe Wall Street panic. Remaining above 15 per 100,000 through the year 1916, the rate then gradually declined to around 13 and stayed there through 1927. A new rise carried it to 18.6 in 1932, at the bottom of the Great Depression, when 21,649 persons were listed as suicides. The rate stood at 15 per 100,000 in 1938 and dropped to a low of 9.6 in the war year of 1944. Since then it has not surpassed the figure of 11.2 per 100,000 recorded in 1950 and again in 1962.

Even at last year's relatively low rate, suicide ranked as the 11th leading cause of death in the United States; the victims numbered 20,890. Among persons aged 20 to 35, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death, being outranked only by accidents, heart disease and cancer. For every two persons killed in automobile accidents, one commits suicide. For every homicide in this country, there are two suicides.

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