42,773 people dead.
Not from terrorist attacks. Not from a recent war. Not from a drunk driver or something unavoidable like an inherited disease.
Nothing that will make the front page of most papers or the top story on the TV news.
It's a national epidemic that we collectively refuse to discuss openly, the one we sweep under our societal rug, the one that we hide behind whispers and sad nods and shame.
It's suicide. And the latest statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics — an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are frightening.
In 2014, suicide rates in the United States rose to their highest levels in almost 30 years, to about 13 suicides for every 100,000 people. Not since 1986 has the country seen this many people killed by their own hand.
Every age group except for men and women over age 75 saw an increase. Middle-aged women age 45-64 led the death parade, their rate increasing 63 percent from 1999 to 2014. The rate for men of the same age rose 43 percent during that time. Suicides by girls age 10 to 14, tripled from 50 to 150. Native Americans saw a sharp increase in the suicide numbers, men (38 percent) and women (89 percent), as did white women (80 percent).
We must address this problem by treating people susceptible to suicide and by treating the root causes of the rising suicide rate.
Studies have attributed the rising numbers to people’s despair over their economic conditions and social status. Those with lower educational levels, those living in poverty, those whose economic and social conditions have sharply declined, and those who are socially isolated are among those experts believe are the newest victims of suicide.
More needs to be done to address these root causes through more assistance in finding jobs and recovering from economic downturns, more legislation to help lift people out of poverty, and more counseling.
More also needs to be done to identify potential suicide victims and to get them treatment for their conditions that lead to suicide.
According to a New York Times article on the rising rates, suicide prevention money has not substantially increased in recent years, and many health care providers do not screen for suicidal tendencies or offer substantial treatment programs. Health organizations need to enhance their program offerings to identify and treat the symptoms that lead to suicide.
More anti-bullying efforts in schools, more education on securing weapons in the home to keep them away from those with mental health issues (Guns are still the top method used in suicides.) and more education for the public and health professionals in identifying potential suicide victims is needed.
But most importantly, perhaps, is that we can't continue to be afraid as a society to openly discuss suicide, its causes and the steps we can all take to prevent it.
If we don't get this out in the open and deal with it immediately and directly, the death count will only continue to rise.
The state Office of Mental Health maintains a website with information and resources on suicide and suicide prevention. Visit www.omh.ny.gov/omhweb/suicide_prevention.