That was the most motor vehicular related deaths ever recorded in a single year in the USA, in 1972.
The federal government proclaimed motor vehicular deaths as a public health issue and has since thrown billions of dollars at the problem. And it worked! Not only have those deaths sharply decreased to 32,675 in 2014, they have done so despite the fact that we now drive many more miles with more cars on the road. There has been nearly a 215% increase in the amount of miles driven since 1972, but the mortality rate has dropped over 40%.
That is a truly amazing thing and many people consider it the greatest achievement of the public health works of the 20th century.
That’s difficult to quantify, so I won’t try, however it is still amazing.
That is the number of suicide deaths recorded in the USA, in 2014.
10,098 more suicide deaths than motor vehicular deaths in the USA in 2014. Obviously I am aware that suicide can happen to almost anyone, meaning nearly the entire population is at risk, while a much smaller population is able to drive. But also consider how infrequently even people who suffer from depression are suicidal, and compare that to how often someone drives at lethal speed.
I have written many blogs on this, suicide is our current public health epidemic. Not only does it take more life than things we regularly think of as incredibly dangerous, like driving, but it also has massive ramifications on the entire country. In 2014, a $55,000,000,000 impact was placed on the economy due to suicide. And unlike vehicular casualty, there are no industries propping up other ends of the economy to offset cost. Motor vehicle accidents are a huge financial burden, but entire industries have developed as a result, like safety manufacturing, and insurance just to name a few.
There is no suicide insurance.
I told you right off the bat that the US government has dumped billions into decreasing traffic deaths. In 2015 alone, the NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) funded $576,000,000 in grants promoting vehicular safety. Meanwhile SAMHSA (US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) funded $60,000,000 for suicide prevention. That is nearly 10 times as much money poured into traffic deaths as suicide deaths, despite the fact that there were more suicide deaths the previous year.
I realize that I am in a unique population, but I know more people that died by suicide than died in a car accident. I haven’t had this conversation with anyone before, but I imagine the numbers are probably similar for you too.
It doesn’t make any sense until you consider stigma. Motor vehicular deaths are often seen as tragic, especially if they are the result of an intoxicated driver. And while youth suicide is similarly seen this way, the vast majority of suicide is brushed aside as the stupid behavior of damaged people.
Hell, sometimes we hope for a suicide, right? Every time I hear about a murder-suicide, my first thought is ‘well that happened in the wrong order’.
Not every suicidal person is damaged, in reality not every suicidal person is even depressed or mentally ill (shocker to most people). But even if they were, don’t these people still deserve help?
Another part of the problem is that there are clear and precise ways to spend half a billion dollars a year making cars and drivers more safe. Not even being intimately involved in vehicular safety I can think of a million things to research, right? The ways cars absorb force, seat belt and air bag technology, smart and interactive artificial intelligence, preventing maintenance issues, keeping drivers alert and responsive, driver education, PR campaigns for safe driving and against intoxicated driving, and I could go on.
But what about suicide prevention? Increase access and funding for treatment centers, PR campaign for those treatment centers, outreach programs…. I got nothing.
So I get it if the money spent isn’t equal because maybe the returns wouldn’t be equal either. But my point about the cash is more or less how important we perceive these issues to be. Vehicular death is a very prominent and visible issue, and everyone can see the progress being made at a number of levels to reduce this. But for suicide, that isn’t really the case, is it? It is certainly more visible over the last few years. When I first opened up on social media, I had only known a couple people who had done that already, but since then I have seen dozens. It makes me happy that athletes and actors and politicians are stepping forward about their mental health, and certainly more excited that my friends are being open about it as well. So awareness is way up! But beyond people talking about it, have you seen much movement on the ground to actually achieve things?
I haven’t, and I am a really active part of the mental health community!
So let’s get there. I don’t think anyone is aware that suicide takes more lives than vehicles, so spread the word.
This is the public health epidemic of our lifetime.
You know… other than global climate change and mass extinction.