Emily Rice Published

The Cost Of Fatal Self-Injury In W.Va.

A tablet shows the words "Mental Health" as a person sits ready to read.West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

Self-injury deaths cost the United States more than $1 trillion a year in medical expenses according to new West Virginia University research.

The study is the final in a series of three by WVU School of Public Health, examining fatal self-injury. The first traced the rapid geographic growth of fatal self-injury across the country and the second study identified the underutilization of labor and manufacturing employment.

“The cost study is a logical extension of these prior studies since cost is the bottom line in characterizing the burden of injury deaths of despair to the country and individual states,” said Ian Rockett, professor emeritus with the WVU School of Public Health and lead investigator on the study.

For this third and final study, Rockett’s team analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and compared changes over a 20-year period from 1999 to 2000, to 2018 to 2019.

“I really think there is a reluctance at the societal level, too, and it’s where you really need to be spending in terms of treatment and prevention,” Rockett said. “And sometimes it’s a certain amount now, or pay a whole lot more later. There actually is a huge disparity in terms of expenditures on substance abuse.”

The research team found estimated national costs of self-injury mortality rose by 143 percent from $0.46 trillion to $1.12 trillion over that same 20-year period.

Estimating the economic costs of self-injury mortality can inform health planning and clinical and public health interventions, according to Rockett.

“Survivors, so family members, or the descendants often carry huge burdens related to guilt and shame and blame. And it’s across the gamut. And they may be shunned, or they may self isolate themselves, they become at higher risk for suicide [themselves]. And so they’re also real ripple effects. Friends, work, acquaintances – acquaintances are affected, too. And the tendency is for people not to talk very much about it, either, which is understandable. But unfortunately, it contributes to suicide being underestimated as a problem.”

While national per capita costs of self-injury mortality doubled from $1,638 to $3,413, West Virginia exhibited the largest per capita cost per death, losing $6,534 per person annually.