The Uncomfortable Trend of Suicide in the US

Suicide deaths in the US have risen in recent years, while rates in other parts of the world – including China, Japan, Russia, and most countries in Western Europe – have fallen.

This blog looks at the worrying increase in suicide deaths across the US, and how more affordable and accessible mental health care can help reduce suicide rates.

US suicide statistics

Suicide is a serious public health problem in the US, as demonstrated by these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Psychological Association and The Economist:  

  • Between 2000 and 2018, suicide deaths in the US increased by 30% while global suicide rates have declined by 38% since 1994.
  • Suicide is the second biggest cause of death for people aged 10 to 34 years old and the fourth for 35- to 54-years-olds. It is the tenth main cause of death in the US across all age categories.
  • Around 12.2 million American adults had suicidal thoughts, 3.2 million people made suicide plans and 1.2 million people tried to take their own life in 2020.
  • In 2020, there were nearly 46,000 registered deaths by suicide in the US, which equates to an average of 126 suicides per day.
  • The highest rates of suicide are among people who are non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic American, and Indian and Alaska Native.
  • Groups with above average suicide rates include veterans, mining and construction workers, people who live in rural areas and the LBGTQ+ community.

Suicide rates among people with a gambling disorder are disproportionately high. A study found that problem gamblers are 15 times at higher risk of suicide.

Suicide risk factors

Trying to establish the risk factors for suicide is challenging because the causes of suicide are complex. According to Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: “At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors.”

Suicide does not discriminate. Anyone, regardless of their gender, age, race or ethnic group may feel suicidal at some point in their lives and many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis. However, there are certain factors that put some people at a higher risk of becoming suicidal:

Health factors

Having a mental health condition – particularly depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or a substance use disorder – can make someone more vulnerable to suicide, especially if it’s an untreated mental illness. Serious physical health problems can also be a risk factor such as a chronic or terminal illness, traumatic injury or being in long-term pain.

Environmental factors

Stressful life situations, especially those that are prolonged, such as bullying, relationship problems, unemployment, financial troubles and legal issues, can make a person feel like there is no way out. Sudden stressful or traumatic situations, like the loss of a loved one or relationship break-up, can also seem insurmountable. Easy access to lethal means, such as firearms, is also a factor when combined with other risks. 

Historical factors

There are several historical factors that can make a person contemplate suicide or take their own life. These include prior suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and being exposed to another person’s suicide. Having experienced abuse or trauma as a child is also a risk factor.

If you, or a loved one, have any of the above risk factors, it doesn’t mean that suicide is inevitable but you should be aware of the warning signs.

Suicide warning signs

The following behaviors and feelings are danger signals that someone may be thinking about suicide:

  • Having previously attempted suicide
  • Talking about suicide
  • Being preoccupied with death 
  • Saying they have no reason to live, or others would be better off without them
  • Talking about feeling hopeless and seeing no way out of problems
  • Expressing strong feelings of guilt and shame
  • Showing dramatic changes in behavior
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or social activities
  • Losing interest in school, work, hobbies and their personal appearance
  • Writing a will and making final arrangements
  • Giving away personal items
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.

If you, or someone you know, are feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) now.

Why are suicide rates increasing?

What is behind the steady incline in US suicides? Socioeconomic changes might be a contributory factor. According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates tend to fall when standards of living improve and rise when they worsen. Economists from Princeton University have found that since 2000, deaths caused by suicide, alcohol and drugs have increased sharply in white, middle-aged Americans. They suggest that this could be connected to a decline in social and economic well-being.

Dr Deborah Stone, Lead Behavioral Scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has conducted research into the rise in US suicides which backs up the socioeconomic link. She reveals that “there were 25 states that had increases of more than 30%.” Many of those states were in more rural regions of the US. The reason why suicide rates have increased more steeply in rural communities could be due to the loss of farming and manufacturing jobs which has caused an economic downturn. Another factor is that people in these areas are more isolated and further away from specialist support.

Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, explains that people at risk of suicide are often failed by the US healthcare system: “There is a lack of accessible, affordable, effective mental health care.” Professor Julie Cerel, President of the American Association of Suicidology, highlights inadequate funding for mental health research as a contributing factor and poor suicide prevention training for helping professionals. In fact, despite national recommendations in place since 2012, only 15 states mandate annual suicide prevention training for healthcare staff.

How Kindbridge can help

Kindbridge is advocating for better mental health care to address the worrying rise in suicide rates in the US. Mental health counseling with a trained professional can provide an important opportunity to intervene for suicide prevention.

Our fully-licensed therapists are experts at treating a wide range of mental health issues – from depression, anxiety and stress to gambling addiction and gaming disorder – before they become too overwhelming.

We provide convenient, confidential and affordable online therapy anytime, anywhere – all you need is an internet connection. Take the first step today – book your free 30-minute consultation and discover how mental health therapy can help you.