Help Curb Increasing Suicide Rates in Rural America

14:00PM Jun 08, 2018

It’s easy to think suicide’s nasty grip will never touch your family or farm team. But, this tragic cause of death is on the rise—especially in rural areas.

“While we’ve seen many causes of death come down in recent years, suicide rates have increased more than 20% from 2001 to 2015. And this is especially concerning in rural areas,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, in a news release. “We need proven prevention efforts to help stop these deaths and the terrible pain and loss they cause.”

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death among Americans and the second-leading cause for adults 25-34. It was responsible for 44,193 deaths in 2015—about one death every 12 minutes.

From 2001-2015, suicide rates were consistently higher for rural residents than urban residents, according to the CDC. Suicide rates for counties outside of metropolitan areas climbed 14% over the five-year period ending in 2016. Meanwhile, the rate within urban areas increased by 8%. 

This map, which showcases CDC data and is published at, shows the annual average age-adjusted suicide rates for counties between 2012 and 2016. Rural and western areas typically experienced higher numbers of suicides.

CDC - Suicide Rate by County

The peace and quiet of country living can be the American dream. But that dream can turn to a nightmare for those who become isolated and disconnected from their communities, says Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension safety and health specialist.

Rural communities are typically tightly-knit towns, where everyone knows everyone. While this may be the case for many, rural life poses risks for marginalized groups, Funkenbusch notes. These groups include racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, those living in poverty, and newcomers.

Funkenbusch says rural communities often lack mental and behavioral health services and transportation. CDC reports that more than half of U.S. counties don’t have a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. There also may be sociocultural factors such as stigma against seeking help, especially for males, she says. 

How You Can Help

Most people who are facing challenging times and considering suicide, show warning signs. According to the CDC, these signs include:

  • Talking about wanting to die 
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain 
  • Talking about being a burden to others 
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly 
  • Sleeping too little or too much 
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated 
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge 
  • Displaying extreme mood swings 

To help prevent suicide in rural communities, Funkenbusch provides this advice:

  • Strengthen community economic support systems, especially those that provide stable housing and employment.
  • Create protective environments. Promote the locking of guns and medicine cabinets. Promote community engagement through activities.
  • Identify and support people and groups that are at risk.
  • Have conversations with family members to create a caring culture within the community.

Suicide prevention begins with caring conversations of awareness of those within our communities, Funkenbusch says. You can find numerous online resources on how to prevent suicide from the CDC or by calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.