Suicide deaths increase 6 percent in Minnesota; men driving uptick

The number of suicide deaths increased 6 percent in Minnesota last year, with suicides among men driving most of the increase.

The state counted 726 suicides in 2015 — 40 more than the previous year. Suicides among white males ages 25 to 34 account for half of the increase, the Minnesota Department of Health said.

The new data highlight the need for greater suicide awareness and prevention efforts, said Ed Ehlinger, the health department's commissioner.

"Today's news clarifies that we must do more to support and connect with those who are suffering and contemplating suicide," said Ehlinger.

The reason for the spike in the young adult male demographic is a mystery. The health department will spend the next year poring over the data to tease out answers.

"What I take away from it is that we need to do stuff that affects all people across all ages," said suicide epidemiologist Melissa Heinen, "not necessarily think with a window of just certain people at risk."

Suicides have been increasing in Minnesota since 2000, when the state recorded an all-time low annual suicide rate of 8.9 per 100,000 residents. The 2015 suicide rate was 13.1 per 100,000 people.

Despite the trend, Minnesota's suicide rate remains among the lowest in the nation.

Still, the state can do better said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

"I think it is troubling that we're seeing an increase in one particular area," said Reidenberg. "But I also think the good news is that we're holding steady in several other areas."

Suicide deaths in 2015 were stable among women, children, American Indians and men ages 45 to 64 — groups that had been targeted for extra state prevention efforts.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently received an annual $250,000 funding boost to identify people at increased risk of suicide and connect them to services.

"I couldn't be happier that we're seeing stabilization in certain populations," said Heinen, who added that she hopes the positive data is a sign increased prevention spending is already bearing fruit.

The funding is just a small portion of the money Minnesota is investing in mental health services. Last year the state Legislature approved a $47 million funding boost — its largest appropriation ever. Much of the money will be used to fund mobile mental health crisis teams and enhance psychiatric services outside of traditional clinic settings.

"We know what works," said Heinen. "We just have to get people connected and we need to do it better."

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