An official Department of Health report from Puerto Rico’s Suicide Prevention Commission showed that suicides on the island increased by 55 percent the last four months of 2017, when compared to the same time period in 2016. According to the data, there were 96 reported suicides from September 2017 through December 2017. From September 2016 through December 2016, there were 62 reported suicides. Last September, Puerto Rico was hit by two hurricanes (Irma and María) that led to lost power, communications, lack of clean water and food shortages.
These suicide statistics come at a time that the government of Puerto Rico said it will not provide any new data on hurricane-related deaths until a working group (the result of a January 4 order by the governor of Puerto Rico) presents a formal report—expected to be released in early April. The government of Puerto Rico contends that the official death count from Hurricane María is at 64, although reports have seriously disputed that count, especially when official government data showed that there were 1,000 more deaths the first 40 days after María in 2017 than there were during the same time period in 2016. The lack of updated data from the government of Puerto Rico led the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo to sue and demand that new data be shared to the press and the public.
The suicide summary also noted that the month of the August 2017 had the second-lowest number of suicides last year. However, the September 2017 and November 2017 suicides of 27 were the same as January and May 2017.
The 2017 suicide rate jumped to 7.6. In 2016, the rate was at 5.8. The 7.6 rate, however, was lower than the 9.5 rate that occurred in 2009 and 2010, but it is still the highest rate since 2014. The suicide rate is the number of suicides that occur for every 100,000 people. In 2017, there were 253 official suicides in Puerto Rico and 3,337,177 people living on the island. Sri Lanka has the highest suicide rate in the world (34.6) and Montana is the top U.S. state with a suicide rate of 25.9 (2016 data). In 2016, New Jersey had the lowest suicide rate in the United States (7.2).
When looking at suicide rates in 2017 across age groups, there was a close to 50 percent increase for people aged 55-59 in 2017, when compared to 2016. Significant increases also occurred in the following age groups: 65–69, 70–74, 75–79, and people over 85.
This chart shows 2017 and 2016 suicide data by gender. Even though women commit suicide at a much lower frequency than men in Puerto Rico, suicide among women increased by 64 percent in 2017, when compared to 2016. Suicides among men increased by 25 percent.
The region of Aguadilla, the northwestern part of the island, saw a 50 percent increase in suicide rates between 2017 and 2016.
Suicide Support Calls
Finally, the report listed how many suicide help calls were made. Even though the number of calls made in September, October and November of 2017 were significantly lower than the same months in 2016 —very likely because landline and cell phone lines were down and not functioning— the number of suicide help calls increased by 10 percent. (December data was not included.)
The issue of suicide prevention and its toll on the island’s population were recently featured by The New York Times’ The Daily podcast, as well as a video report by the Times. Newsweek also wrote about the Department of Health report.
The complete suicide data report by Puerto Rico’s Department of Health is below:
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