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U.S. Suicide Rate Increased in 2021


Depressed woman | Image by Shutterstock

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Federal data revealed that the U.S. suicide rate rose in 2021 after two consecutive years of decline. Suicide was the nation’s 11th-leading cause of death that year.

The suicide rate in 2021 was 14.0 people per 100,000. In 2021, 47,646 people in the U.S. died by suicide, according to data released Friday by the CDC’s National Center for Health statistics.

Between 2000 and 2018, the suicide rate in the U.S. rose by 35% to 14.2 people per 100,000. The all-time high for suicide deaths in the U.S. occurred in 2018, when 48,344 people ended their own lives.

However, the highest recorded suicide rate in the U.S. was 22 deaths per 100,000 people in 1932, during the Great Depression. The U.S. population was much smaller in 1932 — 124.84 million — compared to 326.69 million in 2018.

Through 2019 and 2020, the rate declined by 5% to 13.48 overall, despite continuing to rise through 2020 among some groups, including teenage girls and black and Hispanic males.

The suicide rate in 2021 was nearly 4% higher than in 2020. Males aged 15 to 24 had the sharpest increase at a shocking 8%.

“The declines [over the previous two years] have almost been totally wiped out by this increase,” said Sally Curtin, a health statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics. Curtin is the lead author of the report.

“It’s disappointing to see that it went up at all,” Jill Harkavy-Friedman, the senior vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the Wall Street Journal. “We need to keep working to improve our tools for assessment and intervention.”

Mark Olfson, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said that suspected suicides often require an investigation to determine a cause of death. These suspected suicides can also be misclassified as accidents or drug overdoses, making it difficult to ascribe significance to smaller changes in the numbers.

“If you take a step back for a minute, we’re, I think, still in a period of gradually increasing risk,” Olfson said.

Partly due to the residual strains of the pandemic, mental health conditions and suicide have been prevalent in national conversation. In July, officials opened an updated 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to help callers experiencing mental health and substance use crises.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Counselors answered approximately 318,000 calls, texts, and chats to the network in August.

Still, the CDC report’s researchers said that creating conclusions from a single year of data is difficult. The reasons behind long-term trends are hard to explain and predict.

For instance, a 2011 study concluded that economic and business cycles may affect suicide rates, but different age groups responded differently. Findings suggested that recessions may necessitate public health responses to assist in suicide prevention.

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