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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rural America: More Bars, More Suicides

Here's your uplifting community note of the day: a new study finds a correlation between higher rates of attempted and completed suicides and high bar density. In other words, if there are lots of bars of town, you can expect to find more people killing themselves.

And what kind of towns have more bars?

The results showed that completed suicides were more common in less populous zip-code areas, such as rural communities, and in zip-code areas with larger proportions of older, lower-income whites, but less common in zip code areas with larger proportions of blacks and Hispanics. Suicide attempts were also more common in rural zip codes, but those who attempted suicide were younger, and included blacks and Hispanics as well as whites.

...These results could be due to some contextual effect that affects both drinkers and non-drinkers, commented Dennis M. Gorman, interim director of the Health Science Center at Texas A&M University.

"For example, rural places with lots of bars might be depressing places to live in due to isolation, lack of social ties, etc.," said Gorman. "This 'depressing' context would affect all who live there, both drinkers and non-drinkers...."

[Study co-author Fred W.] Johnson agreed. "Other factors include population loss as youth desert rural towns to find jobs and opportunity in urban areas," he said. "The average age of farmers is now rising toward 60, an age when suicide rates increase as medical problems multiply and social isolation increases. Some small towns cannot attract industry and jobs with tax and other incentives, meanwhile property values plummet. More frequent possession of firearms in rural areas is a major factor in rural suicides, with 75 percent of rural completed suicides nationally and 57 percent of rural completed suicides in California involving firearms."

..."One might also advise against moving into areas that have a high density of bars and off-premise alcohol outlets," said Gorman. "There are a number of social problems that seem to cluster in places with high alcohol-outlet density, excluding restaurants, whether this is as a result of alcohol consumption or a result of problem-prone individuals being attracted into such areas" ["Too Many Bars in Rural America Linked to High Suicide Rates Instead of Idyllic Life," Physorg.com, 2009.09.18].

Oh my. I find one blogger who does some number-crunching to identify the cities with the highest bars-per-person ratio. Swampette's winner: Williston, North Dakota, with one bar for every 941 residents.

How does Madison stack up to that number? Let's see: population 6482, 10 bars in city limits... 1 bar for every 648 of us.

Expand that to Lake County: population 11,693, 18 bars... darn near same ratio, 1 bar for very 650 residents.

Anyone care to dig up the local suicide rate?

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