The ultimate pathology is suicide. Suicide should be on the increase in a society that is in decline. People whose mental health is at risk should increasingly be pushed over the edge, due to the stresses and strains of decaying society. What is happening with suicide in the United States?
The most basic measure of suicide is the crude suicide rate. The rate is the number of suicides per 100,000 people. However, because suicide rates vary considerably by stage of life, an age adjusted suicide rate is also calculated. This rate is obtained by dividing the population into age segments and calculating the rate per 100,000 people for that segment. Each segment rate is then weighted by its proportion of the total population. The sum of these weighted age-specific rates is the age-adjusted rate. Here is the Age-Adjusted Suicide rate for 1960-2003.
The age adjusted rate peaked in 1977 at 13.7. It declined significantly over next three years but steadily increased again to 12.8 in 1986. It has declined steadily since that time to a 40 year low of 10.4 in 2000. This is a decline of nearly 25% over the past 25 years.
The overall rate does not tell the whole the whole story. When rates are examined by five year age categories, a more nuanced story emerges. Look at the years for the highest and lowest suicide rates by age for the period 1960-2002:
The trend for teenagers has been a steady increase in the suicide rate until about 1987. The rate plateaued until about 1994 and began to decline again. Young adults experienced an increase but the rate peaked in the late 1970s. It declined some in the early 1980s and plateaued. The rate began dropping again in the mid 1990s. The oldest half of the age ranges experienced the highest rates in the early 1960s. The rates declined until about 1980 when the rates began to rise again, although they did not go to previous heights. By 1990 the rates had begun to decline.
- Age-adjusted suicide rate is near a forty year low.
- Suicide rates have improved for adults and worsened for children over the past forty years, although that rate for children has been dropping for the last decade.
This seems to suggest an overall improvement in quality of life.