Although suicide is a leading—and rising—cause of death in the United States, efforts to increase awareness of it have failed. Campaigns such as Race for the Cure® for breast cancer, for one, attract 10 times as many participants as do the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walks, despite the fact that annual U.S. death counts for breast cancer and suicide are nearly identical. There are also more than twice as many suicides as homicides and suicides outpace homicides at every age starting in the early teens, but homicides receive a comparatively overwhelming majority of press.
This article examines some of suicide’s impact on the U.S. life insurance industry, and also briefly looks at current practices and thoughts regarding suicide prevention.
Suicide Rates and TrendsSuicide impacts millions of families in the U.S. as well as world-wide. And its impact is not limited to death: For every death by suicide it is estimated that 20 times as many people worldwide are injured but do not die in suicide attempts3—attempts that too often result in disability or permanent impairment.
People who choose highly lethal means of suicide such as fire-arms, suffocation or hanging, have, not surprisingly, correspondingly high fatality rates, yet comprise just 7 percent of all who attempt suicide. The overwhelming majority of suicides are at-tempted using poison or deliberate overdose, but only 2 percent of those attempts prove fatal.
The following table shows 2013 fatality rates for several suicide methods in the U.S.
While suicide mortality is generally found to be lower for the insured population than for the general population, the ratio of the suicide rate by insureds compared to that for the total population increased dramatically at the peak of the most recent recession.
Results by Amount: Distribution of Non-Medical Deaths By Year-RGA 2003-2013
Face amount bands further inform the discussion:
- Suicide percentages relative to total causes of death typically increase with face amount once the bands climb past $50,000.
- Policies with face amounts above $1 million had the largest increase in suicide rates during the period following the 2008 economic recession.
- Average claim sizes also increased following the recession. Average claim size is historically larger for suicide claims as a cohort than for all other (non-suicide) claims, and the gap is now even wider.
Unlike the consistently increasing pattern of population suicide rates, insured suicide rates exhibit greater variability as well as a more active response to economic conditions.
The following charts compare insured suicide rates prior to the recession to those since 2008 (considered the start of the recession). The rate of suicide by amount for individuals ages 60+ has increased to more than double the 2005–2007 rate. Read More +