April 13--The decision to take one's own life is both excruciatingly personal and impersonally demographical.
Someone who is in a deep depression may reach a point of hopelessness at the same moment he happens to pass by a bridge, leading to an impulsive, tragic decision that even he may not have foreseen.
On the other hand, societal trends are well-known: elderly people commit suicide at rates that are 50 percent higher than young people, whites nearly three times more than blacks, men nearly four times more than women.
This mix of factors makes year-to-year changes in suicide rates difficult to interpret. The most recent numbers, however, clearly show a small but steady increase over the last few years.
The difference represents only a few thousand deaths nationwide, adding up to a change in rate from 10.9 per 100,000 population (in 2004, 2005, 2006) to 11.7 per 100,000 (in 2009, based on very preliminary data). But that was enough to move suicide into the list of top 10 killers, down from No. 11 (blood infections) for the first time since classifications changed in 1999.
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