The cause of the recent rise in suicides is unclear, but they began to increase again in 2022 and 2021, although suicide deaths slowed in 2020 and 2019. In order to access crisis counseling, resources, and referrals, individuals may have the option to call a local crisis center, such as one of the 200+ centers that connect callers to a crisis counselor. It is important to remember the easy-to-dial three-digit number, 988, which will be available nationwide in 2022. The introduction of this new crisis number by the federal government acknowledges the growing demand for accessible crisis care and mental health support. Within this period, the suicide rate increased by 16 percent when adjusted. With 2022 showing the highest number of recorded deaths, over half a million lives were lost to suicide.
The above statement comprises the most recent and comprehensive data available before the launch in mid-2022. It represents an analysis of key takeaways from a provisional aggregate of data from WONDER CDC from 2011 to 2021.
It can be difficult to determine whether drug overdoses are intentionally difficult, as some research suggests that drug overdose deaths may be misclassified as suicides, leading to undercounting of suicide numbers. This may be particularly true for populations that have longstanding difficulties accessing mental health care and are experiencing rising financial stressors during the COVID pandemic, which can contribute to higher levels of mental health symptoms and an increase in suicide deaths. The rate of suicide deaths in 2022, at 14.5 per 100,000 individuals, is similar to the rate recorded in 2018, which was 14.2 per 100,000 individuals. However, when looking back further to 1999, there has been a substantial increase of 37% in the rate, moving from 10.57 per 100,000 individuals to 14.4 per 100,000 individuals in 2022. This increase can be attributed to factors such as age and population growth when adjusted for. (Figure 1) Data from the CDC Provisional show that the number of suicide deaths in 2022, exceeding 1,000 per year, is the highest recorded.
In 2021, 55% of all deaths involving firearms were suicides, with states having fewer gun laws being linked to higher rates of firearm-related suicides. Similarly, in 2022, 55% of all deaths involving firearms were suicides, with states having fewer gun laws being linked to higher rates of firearm-related suicides. In 2021, while deaths from other suicide methods remained more stable, there was a 3% increase in firearm-related suicides compared to 2020, and in recent years, firearm-related suicides have been increasing. The data from 2022 shows the highest number of recorded firearm-related suicides, driving overall increases in suicide deaths.
In 2020, the death rate for individuals aged 26-44 was 9%, while the death rate for individuals aged 18-25 was 16%. Suicides were the second leading cause of death for adults under the age of 45. Younger people are less likely to die from other causes because they are more likely to die by suicide. In 2021, suicide rates were similar across different age groups of adults, with a rate of 100,000 per population (Figure 3). Metropolitan areas had a higher suicide rate of 13.6 per 100,000 population, while non-metropolitan areas had a higher rate of 20.2 per 100,000 population. People living in rural areas and males are more likely to report mental illness and attempt suicide. Females have higher suicide rates than males, but they are more likely to report mental illness and attempt suicide. Rates of suicide were highest among White individuals, followed by Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, Asian, Hispanic, and Black individuals, with rates of 17.4 per 100,000 population. In 2021, AIAN individuals had the highest suicide rate of 28.1 per 100,000 population. Rates of suicide were highest among people living in rural areas and males, particularly among Native Alaska and American Indian individuals. In 2021, the highest rates of suicide were observed among Native Alaska and American Indian individuals.
Between 2011 and 2021, the suicide mortality rate rose in teenagers (48% increase, from 4.4 to 6.5 per 100,000) and young adults (39% increase, from 13.0 to 18.1 per 100,000) (Figure 3). The suicide mortality rate also saw a significant increase in rural regions, possibly due to a severe shortage of mental health professionals in these areas. Additionally, a KFF/CNN survey discovered that approximately half of parents reported the pandemic negatively affecting their child’s mental well-being, with 17% stating it had a “major negative impact.” Among teenagers, visits to the emergency department for suicide attempts have risen in recent years, primarily among females. Other studies indicate a particularly substantial rise in suicide deaths among Black youth and adolescents. Insufficient diagnosis of mental health conditions, structural obstacles to receiving care, stereotypes and discrimination associated with poor mental health, racism and discrimination, and disparities in the utilization of mental health services may all contribute to the increasing suicide rates among individuals of color. Suicide mortality rates increased significantly among individuals of color, with the highest increase observed among AIAN individuals (70% increase, from 16.5 to 28.1 per 100,000), followed by Black (58% increase, from 5.5 to 8.7 per 100,000), and Hispanic (39% increase, 5.7 to 7.9 per 100,000) individuals (Figure 3). Suicide deaths are experiencing the most rapid growth among people of color, younger individuals, and individuals residing in rural areas.
In 2021, there was significant variation in suicide mortality rates among different states, as well as in the rate of change from 2011 to 2021. The suicide death rate per state ranged from a minimum of 6.21 per 100,000 individuals in Washington, D.C. To a maximum of 32.34 in Wyoming, with a median death rate of 15.3 per 100,000 in 2021 (Figure 4). Various factors like demographics, availability of firearms (which were involved in more than half of suicides), mental health status, and accessibility to mental health services may contribute to the disparity in suicide rates among states. In 12 states, suicide mortality rates increased by 25% or more between 2011 and 2021, with the most significant increases observed in Alaska (a 54% increase, from 20.0 to 30.8 per 100,000), South Dakota (a 48% increase, from 15.7 to 23.4 per 100,000), Nebraska (a 43% increase, from 10.5 to 15.0 per 100,000), and Montana (a 42% increase, from 22.5 to 32.0 per 100,000).
In order to address the increasing number of suicide deaths, it may be helpful to shed light on the impact of 988 and related crisis services. This could aid in the analysis of more comprehensive 988 metrics, along with future data on suicide attempts and deaths. The current publicly available data on 988 only provides a partial view of its implementation and possible access challenges. There are still questions regarding long-term funding for state call centers and crisis infrastructure, as well as disparities in state performance. Since its introduction in July 2022, 988 has received almost 1 million contacts, including nearly 5 million from the Veteran’s Crisis Line. However, it remains to be seen how it will influence overall suicide rates, especially among people of color or other vulnerable populations. Despite 988 improving answer rates and reducing wait times while handling nearly 5 million contacts due to high demand in its first year, its impact on suicide rates is still unknown. The increase in stressors and unmet mental health needs, which coincide with the launch of 988, may partly explain the unknown exact cause for the rise in suicides in recent years.
If you or someone you are acquainted with is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.