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World Suicide Prevention Day: U.S. Suicide Trend Update 1999-2021  


10 September 2022, 11:29

Today, September 10, 2022, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Recently, there was the creation of a new emergency number for suicide help: 988

Here is the website: 988 Lifeline

Now, sorry to say, my specialty isn’t preventing suicide, but noting the trends, so that’s what I’ll do in this.

I also support fundraising for this through the Movember Foundation, more of which at the bottom of this post.

U.S. Suicide high-level trends, 1999-2021

In updating the 2021 numbers, there is some bad news: while suicide rates had decreased in 2020, in 2021 they increased to continue a worrying trend:

The increase in 2021 brought the age-adjusted death rate back to a level close to the peak, which was in 2018.

As noted on the graph, the cumulative increase in the age-adjusted death rate from the minimum in 2000 to the current levels has been 35%. This is very worrying.

I could have exaggerated this trend by starting my vertical scale at 10 instead of 0, but I think it’s obvious enough the trend is bad.

I don’t need to exaggerate.

Demographic breakout by race/ethnicity and sex

Here is a three-year snapshot by race/ethnicity and sex.

You may have heard that Native American populations saw an especially hard hit on mortality during the pandemic, which is true, but it was not only COVID that caused trouble. It did not help that the suicide rates were inordinately high for Native Americans, both men and women, before the pandemic, but as you can see the rates increased during pandemic.

I will note that suicide rates also increased for black males and Hispanic males.

The trend for white males was mixed, first going down and then up.

Breakout by age

Here is the three-year snapshot by age.

Below, you will find links where I show longer-term trends. But this snapshot is not that unusual — yes, the highest suicide rates are for the oldest people…. and if you look below, it’s actually old men.

But the really worrying trend is that suicide rates for young people have been increasing, and that was a trend before the pandemic. It should surprise nobody that it got worse during the pandemic.

It’s the age 20-24 years old group in particular:

Basically, the college-aged group. I’ve seen increases in mortality for this group with respect to the “nasties”: motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, homicide, and suicide — for some, there had been a bad trend before the pandemic, and it got much worse during the pandemic.

Prior posts and material on suicide

Video: February 2022

Suicide: Trends, 1968-2020, and Provisional Counts Through June 2021
U.S. Gun Deaths are Mostly Suicides, not Homicides
Mortality Nuggets: Videos on Suicide Rate Trends, Society of Actuaries Report, and Fixing Their Graph — this includes the video above
Movember Fundraising: Men and Suicide

Men and Suicide

As noted at the beginning of the post, I fundraise for the Movember Foundation. My primary motivation for supporting Movember is prostate cancer research — my husband Stuart has incurable prostate cancer and just passed his 5-year survival date. Only 20 years ago, the 5-year survival rate for Stu’s diagnosis was 2%. With treatment advances, it has become more like a chronic condition, and perhaps he will get to die of old age, like so many other people.

However, I have long been aware of the sex disparity in suicide rates, which often far exceeds sex gaps in other causes of death.

This is the specific graph I want to show:

You could somewhat see it above — males, in general, had higher rates, and you could see the age 85+ had higher rates, but really, the rates for old women aren’t very high. It’s almost all old men.

Old men specifically have higher rates of suicide than other groups, and they are especially at risk when widowed. People don’t notice this so much, as old men die at higher rates of so many more things than suicide… and, alas, during the pandemic, of course, COVID was really killing off the old men.

I don’t know, personally, any old men who have died this way, and the people I have known who died by suicide were young. My grandfather, after being widowed, had friends and family who often visited and he got to stay in his own home until the very end. So he did not despair. But I think of all the lonely, old men out there.

While there are more resources for people in crisis, especially mental health crises, it is not only depression that drives people to despair, especially when it is at old age. Many of the suicide prevention messages have been crafted with respect to young people, and I understand why, but please remember that many old people are surrounded by pain, loss, and loneliness. Perhaps send them some hope, too.

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