Suicide numbers have declined in New Mexico, the state Health Department announced, dropping 6 percent between 2015 and 2016.
In a news release issued Friday, the department reported that the decrease has reversed a rising trend of suicides over the last several years. There were 469 reported suicides in New Mexico last year, the department said, down from 498 in 2015. The state consistently has had one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.
“The suicide of a loved one, whether it’s a parent, sibling, or friend, impacts the lives of those left behind forever,” state Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher said in the news release. “Suicides are preventable, and this administration is determined to reach more New Mexicans early enough to get them support when they need it most.”
Friday’s report comes as new government data show suicide rates among military veterans in New Mexico and other Western states are the highest in the nation. The Department of Veterans Affairs data, which show wide state-by-state disparities, suggest social isolation, gun ownership and access to health care may be factors.
The report, the VA’s first to examine suicides by state, shows Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico had the highest rates of veteran suicide as of 2014, the most current federal data available. Veterans in wide areas of those states must drive 70 miles or more to reach the nearest VA medical center, the report said.
The suicide rates in those four states stood at 60 per 100,000 individuals or higher, far above the national veteran suicide rate of 38.4. Those numbers compare with an overall U.S. suicide rate of 13.0 deaths per 100,000 people.
The overall rate of veteran suicides in the West was 45.5. All other regions of the country had rates below the national rate. Data from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator show suicide numbers have steadily risen in the state in at least the last two decades, from about 300 in 1995 to a peak in 2015 of what an OMI annual report lists as 479. The Health Department provided a higher figure in its report Friday. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
While the rate of suicide deaths in New Mexico in 1995 was about 17 deaths per 100,000 residents, the rate in 2016 was about 22.5 deaths per 100,000 residents.
In New Mexico and across the U.S., the overwhelming majority of suicide deaths are among white men, and the most frequent cause of a suicide death is a gunshot wound. More than 260 suicide deaths in New Mexico were caused by gun-shots, state data show, including 17 children.
Suicide was the 10th leading causing of death in the U.S. in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. It was the third leading cause of death for children between 10 and 14.
The New Mexico Health Department offers prevention efforts such as training public school staff and community members statewide in suicide prevention practices. These presentations include information on how to identify and support people at risk, as well as guidelines on safe reporting about suicide.
Last year, in an effort to address concerns about a rising suicide rate in the state, the New Mexico Human Services Department, using $1.47 million in federal grant funding, began a program to train primary care doctors and other medical care providers to screen patients for risks of suicide. Primary doctors often are a suicidal patient’s only contact with a health professional.
Suicide doesn’t have just one single cause, though data show risk factors include depression, abusive relationships, health conditions, financial challenges and legal problems, the news release said. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or needing help in a crisis should contact the New Mexico Crisis Line at (855) NMCRISIS or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. The Associated Press contributed to this report.