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Given a choice, let me live longer

I still remember the guy who called me here at the office about two years ago with a bone to pick and a low opinion of my intelligence.

"You must be the biggest idiot in the world," he screamed before slamming down the phone. I'm not suggesting this is a rare thought, but I will say it is uncommon for someone to call and voice those words in such a nasty tone.

The reason for the guy's anger? I had written a column where I quoted statistics that say a person is more likely to get shot and killed with his or her own gun than to ever use that gun in self-defense. It kind of defeats the purpose of having of gun for protection if you're the one who is going to get shot with it.

That brings me to a sad report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control that says the life expectancy of Americans is actually decreasing. For a country supposed to be the most advanced in the world, Americans are living shorter.

For folks like me who prefer life over death, this is bad news.

The 10 leading causes of death for Americans remain unchanged with grim diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's staying on the list. But it's two returning categories, drug overdoses and suicides, which have the most dramatic rises.

The suicide rate in America is particularly alarming with the CDC reporting 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017. That calculates to more than 128 per day. Since 1999, the suicide rate has soared 33 percent. About half of all U.S. suicides, more than 23,000, are by firearms.

In response to this public health emergency, USA Today published a well-written and in-depth story on Thursday asking why more money isn't devoted to suicide prevention. The story quoted stats from the National Institute of Health which indicate more than $6 billion is spent on cancer research, yet only $68 million is spent on suicide research.

When asked about the soaring suicide rate, John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, told USA Today, "If you didn't do anything for heart disease and you didn't do anything for cancer, then you'd see those rates rise too."

Added Adam Swanson, a specialist at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, "Suicide is reflective of other issues we don’t want to talk about. We don’t want to talk about the fact people can’t afford to pay electric bills. We don’t want to talk about the pain people carry."

Suicide rates in rural U.S. counties are nearly double the rates in urban counties, the government says.

The holiday season is officially under way with McMinnville's annual Christmas parade scheduled this Saturday. It's a time of cheer and merriment. It's not supposed to be a time to discuss the depressing and taboo topic of suicide.

But if we're willing to conduct bake sales and devote countless hours to events like Relay for Life to fight cancer, as we should, the U.S. needs to make a deliberate attempt to devote more resources to suicide awareness and prevention.

Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.