22 Veteran Suicides Daily: Social Statistics and You

I just saw a headline that says 22 military vets commit suicide each day. Here’s the question: Does that information, alone, tell you what you need to know so that you can judge the significance of the statement?

The answer is no. The intent of the headline would lead you to believe that having served in the military somehow makes a person more likely to commit suicide. In order to judge whether there is any significance here, we would need to know the rate of suicide among people who have never served. If the rate is significantly greater, then fine, you may have something. But the rate may well be the same or even less, in which case the headline would indicate the opposite of what the reporter probably intended. It would indicate veterans are actually more mentally composed than other people.

The point? Don’t consume social statistics without thinking about the context necessary to make the numbers mean something.

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