Story at a glance

  • The leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020 was heart disease, which was followed by cancer and COVID-19.
  • Stress caused by the virus is “seriously affecting mental and physical health.”
  • Despite the promising statistics, some experts argue that the U.S. is not yet in the clear and that depression related incidents remain a major issue.

Preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show suicide rates fell by almost 6 percent over the last year, despite concerns that the rate could worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The number of suicides dropped below 45,000 in 2020, which is more than 2,000 fewer than the previous year. This also marks the lowest rate since 2017, according to CDC data. 

The leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020 was heart disease, which was followed by cancer and COVID-19.

Despite the promising statistics, some experts argue that the U.S. is not yet in the clear and that depression related incidents remain a major issue. 


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Farida Ahmad, a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics, cautioned against too much optimism in an interview with Axios

"In terms of the rankings, it’s the eleventh leading cause of death, so it’s still very important that we pay attention to that," Ahmad said. "Even if numbers are lower in 2020, it doesn’t mean the issue has gone away or it’s no longer a problem."

Likewise, the American Psychological Association (APA) said in a statement in March that survey results indicate long-term effects of the pandemic are settling in for many adults. The APA noted that the stress caused by the virus is “seriously affecting mental and physical health, including changes to weight, sleep and alcohol use.” 

“Survey responses reveal that physical health may be declining due to an inability to cope in healthy ways with the stresses of the pandemic. Many reported they have gained or lost an undesired amount of weight, are drinking more alcohol to cope with stress and are not getting their desired amount of sleep.”

Ahmad, in an analysis of the 2020 mortality rate, noted that the increase in deaths across a variety of causes could be directly linked to the disruption of COVID-19. In fact, according to Ahmad, the COVID-19 mortality data could be off given the early pandemic turmoil. 

“These increases may indicate, to some extent, underreporting of COVID-19, ie, limited testing in the beginning of the pandemic may have resulted in underestimation of COVID-19 mortality,” Ahmad concluded. 


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Published on Apr 09, 2021