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For Release:
May 26, 2004

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Gretchen Michael
(609) 984-7160

Suicide in New Jersey


            TRENTON – Suicide is a major cause of preventable death in New Jersey, with older white males and rural residents at greatest risk, according to a report from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services’ Center for Health Statistics.

                New Jersey’s suicide rates in 1999-2000 were highest in non-Hispanic white males age 65 and older.  There were nearly 600 suicides in the state in 2000, nearly twice the number of homicides for that year. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for those aged 15-24 years, and the fifth leading cause for those aged 25-44 years.

In general, suicide rates were far higher among males than females.  However, females have higher rates of attempted suicide.                 

In the elderly, “cumulative loss” can lead to suicide – that is, the loss of a spouse, job, status or income brought on by retirement.  Many elderly people suffer from untreated depression, which, along with alcohol abuse, are significant risk factors for suicide. Chronic pain and other physical infirmities also may play a role.  Older people are more likely to have visited a health care provider shortly before their suicide. Older adults are also more likely to use highly lethal methods, particularly firearms, and are far more likely to be successful.

“Health care providers should be alert for signs of depression and other suicide risk factors in patients of all ages,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.  “Health care providers should be especially vigilant for the risk factors for suicide in older patients with chronic health problems or those who have suffered job and other personal losses.”

New Jersey had the fourth lowest suicide rate in the nation in 2000, following Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, and New York. Nationally, suicide rates are lowest in densely populated northeastern states.

The study found suicide rates were higher in the southern and northwestern counties, which is consistent with a national pattern of higher suicide rates in rural, less densely populated states.  Suicide rates were highest in Warren, Ocean, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties.

                One theory the report offers for higher rates in rural areas is higher rates of gun ownership in rural counties. Gun ownership is generally more common in New Jersey counties with high suicide rates, according to the report.  But, as the report notes, the causes of suicide are complex, and in rural areas, social isolation, untreated depression, alcohol abuse, or job or other losses could play a role.

                When committing suicide, males are more likely to use firearms – one of the most lethal means -- while women are more likely to use poison.   Firearm use in suicides also increases in older age groups.

                “While there has been increasing awareness of the risks firearms in the home pose to children, we should also educate about the risks they pose to older adults.  Health care providers may wish to counsel older white males in particular, and their family members, on this issue,” said Katherine Hempstead, director of the department’s Center for Health Statistics and author of the report.

                New Jersey has several programs and resources in the area of senior health, access to primary health care, and mental health services.

                HealthEASE, a two-year pilot project funded by the Robert W. Johnson Foundation, helps senior citizens manage the changes associated with aging.  The program stresses coping strategies such as maintaining social contacts, developing a support system, and managing stress.  Older adults needing further help are referred to local community mental health resources.  The program is being piloted in Bergen and Ocean counties.

                In the last two years, New Jersey has also expanded access to primary health care in medically underserved areas, which include some of the less-populated areas highlighted in the suicide report.  The number of community health center sites is increasing from 51 to 75, including nine currently being developed.  These centers, known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, serve as an essential safety net for uninsured and underserved people needing care for a wide range of health problems.  For more information on FQHCs, call 1-800-328-3838.

                The Topics in Health Statistics report on suicide in 1999-2000 is the latest in a series that covers a wide range of health topics.  The full report series may be viewed at


Other Resources

NJ Department of Health and Senior Services, CaregiverNJ web site – Support Groups, and Counseling, Drug and Alcohol and Support Services:


NJ Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health Services:

Hotline:  1-800-382-6717


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Health Information Center, toll-free crisis hot-lines and toll-free health information telephone numbers on a wide range of topics:

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