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Suicide is a serious problem in the United States, generating immense family disruption, pain, and grief. Every year, approximately 30,000 Americans kill themselves, about the same rate as death by automobile (although there is undoubtedly some overlap between the two). Firearms account for more than half of all successful suicides. Pills, poisons and strangulation cover most of the rest.

Male suicides outnumber female suicides by more than three to one. Females make a greater number of suicide attempts, at which they are less successful than males (who have greater access to firearms). For every suicide death in the United States, 11 non-fatal attempts occur.

The young and the very old are disproportionately likely to choose suicide as a means of death. Among young people, aged 15 to 24, suicide is the third major cause of death. The ratio of males to females in this group is even greater than that of the general population: more than five to one. People over the age of 65 have an even higher suicide rate than the young.

Among ethnic groups, Hispanics, non-Hispanic Blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders have suicide rates at half the national average. The rate for non-Hispanic whites is slightly above the average, but the rate for Native Americans is particularly high, especially among adolescents and teenagers. On many Indian reservations, the atmosphere is one of despair. In the small town of Thoreau, New Mexico, as an example, five Navajo teenagers aged 13 to 16 took their own lives within a period of two months. Thoreau has a population of only 1,500. Among Native American teenagers, as among all teenagers, suicides often occur without warning.

Suicide prevention counselors and therapists, and telephone hotlines, exist in most American communities. It is impossible the gauge the effectiveness of their work, except to assume that it is substantial. In a sense, dealing with the suicide problem is only a subset of the larger issue of mental health in the United States. Depression and substance abuse are two major sub-issues in the suicide question. Exposure to the suicidal behavior of other people can also be a factor, particularly among young people. Some suicidal people kill themselves on impulse, leaving little or no occasion for intervention by others. Others show behavioral signs that may be clear to mental health professionals, but that are lost on family and friends.

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