Well-Being Mental Health

US suicide rates rise following 2-year decline

In 2021, suicide rates among men rose more than they did for females.
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Story at a glance

  • The U.S. suicide rate had been declining in recent years.

  • But new data show rates are increasing again and are just 1 percent shy of the 2018 peak.

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10 and 34.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

Rates of suicide in the U.S. increased in 2021 following a two-year period of decline, according to new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The trend is worrying experts who fear rates are rebounding to those measured before the pandemic. 

Compared with 2020, last year saw a 4 percent increase in suicides overall, according to death records processed by the National Center for Health Statistics. Although total monthly suicides were lower in January, Februray and July of 2021 compared with the previous year, all other months outpaced 2020. Totals were also 1 percent lower than peak rates measured in 2018. 

The suicide rate among men was greater than that of women in 2021 – 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

“By age group, the largest statistically significant percentage increase from 2020 to 2021 was for males aged 15–24, by 8%,” authors wrote, adding no significant declines were measured in any male age group. 

In July, Health and Human Servives launched a new suicide prevention holtine number – 988 – to increase accessibility to mental health services. In August, the lifeline received more than 400,000 contacts through phone calls, online chat messages and text messages. 

That decision also followed an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, issued in December 2021, calling attention to the youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are more likely to use violent methods, contributing to higher death rates. Firearms are used in half of all suicides, a method that is almost always deadly.

The majority of gun owners in the United States are men, although a rising number of women have recently purchased firearms. Research has shown that access to the deadly weapons drastically increases the risk of death by suicide, while in 2020, 54 percent of all gun-related deaths in the United States were suicides

Many advocates are pushing for safe storage practices as one preventive measure against gun-inflicted suicide. If it takes longer for an individual to access their firearm, the desire to commit suicide may wane, or someone may be able to intervene, experts say.

Safe storage practices can include storing the firearm and ammunition separately, adding a locking device to the firearm, and storing it in a safe, secure location. 

Suicide also marks the second leading cause of death for those between the ages 10 and 34. From 1999 to 2018, the U.S. suicide rate increased by 35 percent before dropping by 5 percent through 2020. 

But this overall decline also saw increases among females aged 10 to 24 and males aged 10 to 44 and 75 and older.

The CDC data reflect deaths up to May 15, 2022. In total, there were 47,646 suicides recorded in 2021, compared with 45,979 in 2020 and 48,344 in 2018. However, there were not enough deaths in some age groups for researchers to be able to detect statistical significance. Numbers and rates are also provisional and may change over time.

A history of depression and other mental illness is a significant risk factor for suicide. Having a serious illness like chronic pain, job or financial problems, and substance misuse, can also increase the risk of suicide, according to the CDC. 

Previous research has shown suicide is more prevalent in rural areas, especially among men. This could be due to increased stigma surrounding mental health, less access to mental health care and resources, higher levels of poverty or unemployment, and increased access to lethal methods like firearms and highly toxic pesticides.