Rising rates of suicide among older adults drove the number of such deaths to a historic high in the United States last year, even as suicide declined among youth, according to a report released Wednesday by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 49,000 people died by suicide in 2022 across the country, the highest tally recorded for the nation, according to federal figures. It’s the latest evidence of a troubling trend in the U.S., where suicide has been on the rise for much of the 21st century.
The U.S. suicide rate fell somewhat between 2018 and 2020, but then resumed its upward trend, alarming health officials. After adjusting the raw numbers to account for the age distribution of Americans, CDC researchers found that the nation’s suicide rate last year was 14.3 deaths per 100,000 residents — a level not seen since 1941.
The rate is based on preliminary figures for suicide deaths, which are expected to increase as 2022 deaths continue to be assessed and more of them are classified as suicides.
The growing numbers were propelled by rising rates of suicide among people 35 or older, federal figures indicate. Between 2021 and 2022, rates actually fell among those younger than 25, but rose significantly for many groups of older adults, the report shows.
“It’s somewhat different than what we’ve seen in past years,” said Sally C. Curtin, a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and one of the authors of the new report. Suicide rates have increased across many demographic groups, but “if there’s a bright spot in the report, it is that decline for some of the younger groups which had been marching steadily up.”
Suicide prevention and crisis counseling resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call 9-8-8. The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. Text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach the Crisis Text Line.
The gender gap remained wide in 2022, with 23.1 deaths per 100,000 men and 5.9 deaths per 100,000 women. Elderly men were at especially high risk: Among men ages 75 and older, the suicide rate (43.7 deaths per 100,000) was roughly twice as high as for young males ages 15 to 24 (21.6 deaths per 100,000).
Though suicide was much less common among women than men, the age-adjusted rate for women rose 4% between 2021 and 2022, compared with 1% for men. Among women, the age range at highest risk of suicide was 45 to 54, with 8.9 such deaths per 100,000, according to the new report.
And there have been marked differences in suicide rates by race and ethnicity, with American Indian and Alaska Native people at highest risk (26.7 deaths per 100,000), followed by non-Hispanic white people (17.6 deaths per 100,000), according to the report.
Suicide rates have been significantly lower among other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., including Black people, whose rate was 9 such deaths per 100,000. But other studies have questioned whether misclassification of deaths among Black people might affect the accuracy of those numbers.
The U.S. has seen suicides rise even as rates fell in many other countries across the globe. Experts have suggested a range of factors that might play a role, including the opioid epidemic, economic uncertainty and access to firearms.
The new report did not examine the specific manner in which people died, but a KFF analysis this year found that firearm-related suicides continued to rise in the U.S., accounting for 55% of all suicides in 2021 and 2022. Reducing access to such “lethal means” has become one focus for suicide prevention.
The U.S. surgeon general issued a call to action in 2021, saying that suicide prevention “requires a comprehensive approach that combines multiple strategies to reduce risk and strengthen protective factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels.” That includes addressing “upstream factors” that affect suicide, increasing the use of mobile crisis teams, and keeping people safe from “lethal means,” the surgeon general’s report says.
“The troubling increase in suicides requires immediate action across our society to address the staggering loss of life from tragedies that are preventable,” Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer, said this year.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call 988. The first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. Or text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach the Crisis Text Line.