Congressman Donald Young doesn’t understand depression and suicide.

October 28, 2014

Depression, Suicide

Alaskan Congressman (R) Don Young (AP Photo)

Alaskan Congressman (R) Don Young (AP Photo)

Alaskan Republican Congressman recently claimed that welfare programs caused an increase in suicide rates.

“This suicide problem didn’t exist until we got largesse from the government,” Young reportedly claimed at Alaska’s Mat-Su Senior Center.

“When people had to work and had to provide and had to keep warm by putting participation in cutting the wood and catching the fish and killing the animals, we didn’t have the suicide problem,” Young continued. “It comes from the largesse of saying you’re not worth anything but you’re going to get something for nothing.”

This is an example of anecdotal ideological rhetoric with no basis in fact. Young is romanticizing a fictional past to attempt to blame his political opponents for a societal problem without any evidence.

In his career, Republican Representative Donald Young has on multiple occasions shown that he can be out of touch with the modern world, such as when he called a Rice University professor’s testimony on the environment “garbage,” without actually having listened to it (also mistakenly calling the speaker ‘Professor Rice’), and also when he used the racial slur, “wetbacks,” to refer to Hispanic workers. His suicide comments received particularly strong backlash, as they were made in front of students from a high school recovering from the recent suicide of one of its students.

While verbal slips are for the most part forgivable, on this occasion Young has made a serious charge that requires correction, not merely asking for an apology.

Let’s be perfectly clear.

There is no correlation between welfare spending and suicide rates. 

Here is a graph made from data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, Federal Reserve, and Human Health Services, featured in the Washington Post: (Source)

suicide and welfare chart

In case the chart does not make this clear, there is no correlative or causative relationship between welfare and assistance program spending and the suicide rate. 

On the other hand, the CDC reported in a 2011 press release that there is a relationship between the unemployment rate and suicide rate. For example, one of the largest recorded increases in the suicide rate came during the Great Depression.

Through a CDC historical document it is also possible to view suicide statistics in the U.S. for 1903 through 1907, which actually show higher suicide rates in the U.S. before the advent of welfare and assistance programs, thoroughly discrediting Young’s claim.

Suicide should not be used as an ideological tool. However, regardless of Young’s statements, depression and suicide are serious issues in American society. Modern medical science suggests there are a variety of factors that contribute to depression, both genetic and environmental.

That said, if you are concerned that you may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, or that someone you know is, the solution is not to stop government assistant programs; seek help. The CDC website and many other organizations offer a variety of tools to help deal with suicidal thoughts.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381

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