Suicides Rival Traffic Deaths In Tennessee

Jan 17, 2014

Credit WUOT News, Matt Shafer Powell

  For years, motor vehicle accidents represented the leading cause of injury death in Tennessee, with suicides running a distant second.  The Status of Suicide in Tennessee 2014 report released this week by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network suggests the two are now about equal.

In 2012, the last year in which state-specific data are available, 958 Tennesseans died on the roads.  That same year, 956 took their own lives.

Those numbers reflect the changing nature of both suicide and accident reporting.  The TSPN study says suicide numbers are more accurate than in the past, when doctors and medical examiners could be more easily convinced to fabricate a death finding on behalf of a suicide victim's family.

At the same time, changes in driving regulations and safety equipment have resulted in fewer traffic deaths, when compared with the number of cars on the road.

Then, there’s the Great Recession.

Suicide rates often spike during an economic downturn and the most recent recession was no exception.  In Tennessee, the suicide rate rose 14.6 percent from 2007 to 2008, the beginning of the downturn.  The TSPN report shows it’s leveled off since then, but still hasn’t reached pre-recession levels.  This year’s report claims a rate of 14.8 per 100,000 people.   

Meanwhile, a recession can have the opposite effect on traffic deaths.  With more people out of work, fewer people are driving.  And families will stay home more often to save money on gas.

Among the other findings in the TSPN report:

*Tennessee’s suicide rate (14.8) is more than two full points higher than the latest national average (12.4)

*On average, a teenager in Tennessee commits suicide every four days.  A senior over the age of 65 dies by suicide every three days.

*Adults in their late 40’s and early 50’s are nearly five times more likely to commit suicide than teenagers. 

*A man in Tennessee is four times more likely to kill himself than a woman.

*The suicide rate among whites is three times that of blacks.

*At 35.6, Cheatham County in Middle Tennessee had the state’s highest suicide rate in 2012.  

*Knox County reported 77 suicides in 2012.  It’s suicide rate of 17.4 is nearly three points higher than the state rate.

*Almost two-thirds (62.6 percent) of Tennessee suicides involved firearms.  The next highest method was suffocation (18.6 percent), which refers to any method in which the air supply is cut off, including hanging.