Nov 4, 2021 - Health

Suicide rates in the U.S. declined in 2020 for some groups

Age-adjusted suicide rates for U.S. males
Data: Vital Statistics Surveillance Report; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Suicide deaths dropped overall in the U.S. for the second year in a row by 3%, according to preliminary data out Wednesday from the CDC.

The big picture: It's potentially an unexpected bit of good news in light of other data which shown the pandemic resulted in higher rates of anxiety, isolation and financial hardship.

But it also may not tell the whole story.

What they're saying: "With other causes of death like heart disease, if you saw an increase in risk factors, you would expect to see an increase in the deaths or almost model it. But with suicide, it's harder than that and more complex," Sally Curtin, health statistician and author of the study, told Axios.

Reality check: Trends of suicide are at times difficult to make conclusive analyses because many factors are at play. For instance, investigations on drug overdoses take time and it's not immediately clear if they are intentional.

Researchers from the CDC can't speculate what's behind the decrease, Curtin said.

  • "I know it's hard because we know in 2020 drug overdoses increased and — although not deaths of despair — homicides increased," she added.

But, but, but: There were increases in suicide among young adults over 35, as well as American Indians and Alaska Natives, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans.

  • Suicide rates were the highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives, which increased by 5% in 2020, followed by white Americans.
  • Black and Hispanic women had the lowest rates of suicide among any group. White women had the largest decline at 10% between 2019 and 2020.
  • Between 1999 and 2018, suicides increased 35% before a slight decrease of 2% in 2019.
  • The agency's preliminary data confirmed a 14% drop in suicide deaths in April 2020 compared to April 2019 despite suicide hotline calls increasing at that time.

State of play: Some researchers have concluded the self-reported levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking in high-income and middle-income countries, didn't necessarily translate to increases in suicide, a study from The Lancet published in the spring shows.

  • Their reasoning pointed to competency in governments responding to the threat to mental health, community support for at-risk individuals and new connections or relationships strengthened within households.
  • It's also possible, the financial help provided by some countries staved off economic distress for some individuals. Though, it is possible "the pandemic's potential suicide-related effects are yet to occur" as support withdraws and reduces, the authors of the report said.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Go deeper