More Americans Are Dying From Suicide

A new report finds that rates have risen in almost every state since 1999.

A metal box with a red button that says "push to call," and a placard reading "Crisis Hotline. There is hope make the call"
One of two crisis hotlines installed on the Rio Grande Bridge near Taos, New Mexico. (Steven Clevenger / Getty)

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Since 1999, the suicide rate in the U.S. has gone up across all racial and ethnic groups, in both men and women, in both cities and rural areas, and across all age groups below 75. These stunningly consistent trends come from a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Overall, the suicide rate has increased nearly 30 percent.

Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the country in 2016, accounting for the deaths of nearly 45,000 Americans over the age of 10.

The CDC report does not conclude exactly why suicide rates have risen so much and so consistently across the country. But, when the information was available, the agency did break down the deaths by method and by circumstances preceding the suicide, suggesting  a few noteworthy trends.

The detailed information comes from the National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects data from death certificates, coroner and medical examiner reports, and law enforcement in 27 states.

Nearly half of the suicides reported through this system in 2015 involved firearms, making this the most common method. The CDC, meanwhile, has been hampered in its ability to study guns as a public health issue because of restrictions placed by Congress.

Less than 5 percent of the suicides reported in 2015 involved opioids, despite huge numbers of people dying of accidental opioid overdoses. The distinction between intentional suicide and accidental overdose is not always clear, doctors writing in the New England Journal of Medicine have argued, because individuals’ “motivation to live might be eroded by addiction.” Suicide may even be undercounted, if some intentional overdoses are being classified as accidental deaths.

Forty-six percent of people who died by suicide had a diagnosed mental condition. Common contributing factors to suicide in 2015 also include: a relationship problem (42 percent), a recent or upcoming crisis (29 percent), substance abuse (28 precent), a physical health problem (22 percent), and a job or financial problem (16 percent). The numbers do not add up to 100 percent because, as the CDC report emphasizes, “suicide is rarely caused by any single factor, but rather, is determined by multiple factors.”

The time period from 1999 to 2016, covered by the CDC report, includes the Great Recession. Another CDC study, in 2015, found that suicides related to foreclosure or eviction doubled between 2005 and 2010 with the beginning of the Great Recession.

The economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have called suicides as well as drug and alcohol-related deaths “deaths of despair.” Much of the conversation around deaths of despair has centered on middle-aged white Americans without college degrees, who have been dying in greater numbers. But the rising suicide rate in nearly all populations in the U.S. suggests that this is a public health problem facing the entire country, regardless of demographics.