America's Rising Suicide Rate


with John Madigan of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


Aug 01, 2018

The recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have brought suicide to the forefront of the national conversation. Now the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, suicide rates have risen more than 25 percent since 1999.

John Madigan, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, joins Sheila Hyland to discuss this public health crisis and suicide prevention.

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: Suicide rates are on the rise in the US. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 25 percent increase from 1999 to 2016, and the recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have put suicide in the spotlight. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me to discuss this public-health crisis and suicide-prevention efforts is John Madigan, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. John, thank you for being with us today. -

Madigan: Great to be here. -

Hyland: And I do understand that you have a personal connection to this issue.

Madigan: I do. I lost my sister Nancy in 1997. So she´d been diagnosed at 14 with a mental illness and had gone to college and had a career, but by age 37, it got so overwhelming that she completed suicide. It doesn´t make me a better lobbyist. It just gives me a different set of eyeglasses as I try to work through the public-policy process as it relates to mental health and suicide prevention.

Hyland: Yeah, you are an advocate for suicide prevention. So a 25 percent increase in suicides. That´s 865 suicides a week in the US. What findings does the CDC report reveal about the rising suicide rate?

Madigan: Well, there are many things that it reveals, but I think what´s most important is that they now focused on the fact that this is a growing crisis within our country and that it´s really important that the average American understand that mental illness is no different than diabetes or heart disease.

Hyland: That´s a good point. But what we want to know is, who´s most at risk, and are there answers as to why the suicide rates are going up?

Madigan: Well, I´d like to give you a magic pill or something, but there´s not. I mean, suicide´s a result of a whole host of reasons, but I think the rates are rising right now the highest among my age group -- white men, 50 years of age and older -- but it´s also rising among people 10 to 25. So, I mean, that´s both ends of the spectrum, and it´s critically important. Again, I think that people now talk to their family members and loved ones about, if you´re living with depression or any kind of mental illness, there´s help out there, and please get it.

Hyland: There´s so much stigma attached to this, though. How we do get the conversation started, John, about suicide and suicide prevention?

Madigan: Real simple. My good friend Patrick Kennedy talks about the fact that all of us need a yearly check up from the neck up. So even when we take our kids to get their vaccinations for preschool or grade school, that pediatrician ought to ask, "Sheila, how´s your son Johnny doing? Is he making friends? Is he social? Anything that we need to talk about?" And, again, I think, again, it´s no different than heart disease or diabetes. We need to make it a regular part of the conversation.

Hyland: And, John, what are the warning signs to look for?

Madigan: There are several, but I think the most obvious one´s withdrawal, people who get angry who normally don´t get angry, maybe drinking more, taking more medications, isolating themselves, giving away prized property.

Hyland: We talked earlier about you being an advocate for suicide prevention. What is the foundation doing toward that end, toward ending suicide?

Madigan: Well, that´s a great question. We have one program. It´s called Project 2025, and our goal is to reduce suicide 20 percent by 2025, and we´re focusing on 4 areas. Two of them are related to the medical field in the emergency room and the primary-care space, third is in prisons, and the fourth is in educating gun-owning families about the dangers of having guns in the home. We´re not suggesting that guns be removed permanently, but we´re suggesting, much like if you have a family member with an alcohol issue, they would take the car keys away. If you have a son with depression and you have guns in the home, what´s your family´s plan to temporarily perhaps separate the weapon from the ammunition, lock it up, or whatever?

Hyland: And it´s important to get the message across that there is hope and there is help available.

Madigan: Absolutely. Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death in this country. And, again, there´s help out there. I mean, one of the pieces of legislation I´m working on right now that Congress recently passed legislation that´s gonna look into the possibility of converting the 1-800-273-TALK line that´s on your listeners´ screen right now to a three-digit number so it´s easy to remember. -

Hyland: Like 911, for instance. -

Madigan: Exactly, exactly. And then we´re gonna put more funding into the crisis line so there´s 24/7 help available in all 50 states apple-to-apple.

Hyland: All right. John Madigan, we wish you the best with everything that you are doing toward suicide prevention and working toward that three-digit number, as well.

Madigan: Well, thanks for having us. Thank you.

Hyland: And thank you for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland.

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