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41 Suicide Attempts a Year in National Parks

A significant number of people try to kill themselves in America’s 84 national parks every year, and 68% succeed, sometimes by jumping off cliffs or bridges, a study shows.

Dec. 2, 2010 -- A significant number of people try to kill themselves in America’s 84 national parks every year, and 68% succeed, sometimes by jumping off cliffs or bridges, a study shows.

In the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for Dec. 3, researchers say 286 suicide attempts occurred in 2003-2009, for an average of 41 per year. Of all attempts, 68% were successful. 

Firearms were involved in 33% of the suicide attempts, followed by falls at 19% (many by jumping off cliffs or bridges), suffocations at 9%, poisoning at 7% (included drug overdoses), and cuts and piercings at 6%. Also, in 6% of suicide attempts, people used motor vehicles, which typically involved driving over a cliff. In contrast, nationally, less than 1% of suicide attempts annually are transportation related.

Blue Ridge Parkway and Grand Canyon

Six of 84 parks had 10 or more suicide events (suicide and attempted suicide), led by the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia and the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, both of which reported 21 events during the 2003-2009 period.

For males, the mostly commonly reported method of attempted and completed suicides was firearms (36%). Falls accounted for 19% and suffocations 16%, the study shows.

For females, top causes were firearms at 21%, falls at 19%, and poisonings at 16%.

The CDC says that between 2003 and 2009, the National Park Service averaged 28 suicides and 13 suicide attempts annually.

Among other key findings:

  • 83% of 194 suicides in the parks involved males.
  • Nationally in 2007, 79% of total suicides were by males.
  • The mean age of people who committed suicide or tried to in the parks was 43, ranging from 16 to 84.
  • The highest number of suicides occurred in June (22) followed by August (21) and January (21).
  • The highest number of attempted suicides occurred in July (17) followed by 11 in May.

Suicide Prevention

The CDC report says that each death due to suicide in a national park represents a preventable event in a public place. Suicides can lead to major cost burdens for the parks: One case cost $200,000 because it involved searching for a missing person.

The report also says that though park rangers have tried to stop suicides, their ability to do so has been only partly successful, and that training for the federal employees in how to stop people from trying to kill themselves and in how to detect signs of park-goers at risk might prove useful.

Also, the researchers say physical barriers should be considered in places where people jump, or could jump, from a high location.

Physical barriers on some bridges also might be a way to help prevent suicide attempts.

The top 10 national parks for suicide deaths between 2003 and 2009 were:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina, Virginia)              15 deaths  
  • Colorado National Monument                                           12
  • Grand Canyon (Arizona)                                                    11                 
  • Natchez Trace (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee)       11 
  • Golden Gate (California)                                                    11
  • New River Gorge (West Virginia)                                      9
  • Yosemite National (California)                                           6
  • Cuyohoga Valley (Ohio)                                                     5
  • Saguaro (Arizona)                                                               5
  • Cape Hatteras (North Carolina)                                        4
  • Chattahoochee River (Georgia)                                        4
  • Death Valley (California)                                                    4
  • Glen Canyon (Arizona, Utah)                                            4
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