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U.S. suicide rate reaches 30-year high

Source: NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality
Age-adjusted suicide rates, by sex: United States, 1999–2014

The suicide rate in the United States rose 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, according to a somber report released late last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2014, 13 of every 100,000 Americans took their own lives, up from 10.5 of every 100,000 in 1999. That’s the highest the U.S. suicide rate has been since 1986.

The increase occurred among both men and women and among every age group between 10 and 75, although the proportion of the increase was greatest for girls aged 10 to 14 and for men aged 45 to 64.

As Sally Curtin, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics and the lead author of the report, told CNN, the widespread nature of the findings present a significant challenge to health officials and others working on suicide prevention.

“If it were just one particular group, you could say ‘that is where we need to focus,’ ” she said. 

The official number of people in the U.S. who took their own lives in 2014 was 42,773, making suicide the country’s 10th leading cause of death

Pace doubled after 2006

During the 15 years before 1999, the U.S. suicide rate had been declining. But in 1999, according to the new report, rates began to rise at an annual pace of about 1 percent — which then doubled to 2 percent after 2006. 

That post-2006 rate likely reflects, at least in part, the severe economic hardships of the past decade.

“People [were] growing up with a certain expectation … and the Great Recession and other things have really changed that,” Julie A. Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University who studies the demography of suicide, told the Washington Post. “Things aren’t panning out the way people expect. I feel for sure that has had an effect.” 

Access to firearms and the rise in the abuse of opioid drugs also appear to be key factors. According to the CDC report, firearms were the most common method of suicide death among men in 2014, although the proportion of men using firearms to end their lives decreased from 61.7 percent to 55.4 percent during the period of the study.

Suicide rates for females, by age: United States, 1999 and 2014
Source: NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality
Suicide rates for females, by age: United States, 1999 and 2014

Poisoning — which has increasingly involved prescription painkillers — edged out firearms as the most common method of suicide for women in 2014, accounting for more than a third (34.1 percent) of all such deaths (compared to 31 percent for firearms).

Although guns and poisoning remain the leading methods of suicide in the U.S., more people are resorting to suffocation, including hanging. In 2014, one in four suicides was attributable to suffocation, an increase from fewer than one in five in 1999.

Other major findings

Here are some other findings from the CDC report:

  • While men killed themselves at a rate more than three times that of women in 2014 (20.7 per 100,000 vs. 5.8), the suicide rate for women rose much faster during the previous 15 years than it did for men (45 percent vs. 16 percent). 
  • In men, the suicide rate was highest among the 75-and-older age group, even though that rate fell 8 percent over the past 15 years, from 42.4 per 100,000 in 1999 to 38.8 per 100,000.  Men aged 45 to 64 had the second-highest suicide rate for men in 2014 — 29.7 per 100,000 in 2014, a 43 percent increase from 20.8 in 1999.
  • Women 75 and older also saw a decline in their suicide rate, from 4.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 4.0 in 2014.  
  • Among women, the suicide rate was highest in 2014 for those aged 45 to 64 (6.0 per 100,000). Girls aged 10 to 14, however, had the largest percent increase during the period of the study — a rise of 200 percent (from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014). Although based on a small number of suicides (150 in 2014), this rate jump among girls was particularly startling to the study’s authors. “For that group, the deaths are just the tip of the iceberg,” CDC statistician Sally Curtin told the PBS NewsHour. “There are so many more attempts and hospitalizations.”
  • In a supplemental brief, the CDC researchers reported that American Indians and Alaska Natives experienced the steepest rise in suicides among racial and ethnic groups. Their rates jumped 89 percent among women and 38 percent among men during the period of the study. 
  • Rates also rose significantly among white women (60 percent) and white men (28 percent). 
  • The only racial group that saw a decline in their suicide rate was black males. It fell 8 percent, from 10.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 9.7 in 2014.

FMI: You will find both reports on the CDC website. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) at any time of day or night, or you can use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential, and will connect you to a trained counselor.

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