Suicide Mortality Spiked 48% in 20 Years, New CDC Data Shows

by Staff Writer
August 14, 2023 at 10:05 AM UTC

CDC data exposes a 48% surge in US suicide rates from 1999 to 2020, reflecting a complex crisis impacted by age, gender, and methods.

Clinical Relevance: Evolving suicide trends should intervention and prevention strategies

  • New CDC data revealed a 48 percent rise in US suicide rates between 1999 and 2020.
  • Patterns of suicide mortality varied among age groups, genders, and methods used.
  • Experts say there is an urgent need for targeted interventions to address this complex crisis.

The recently released WONDER data, looking at suicide mortality rates in the US, paint a dark picture of America’s mental health landscape.

Some highlights from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report:

The Stats

  • From 1999-2020, the age-adjusted suicide rate rose from 10.5 to 14.5 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s a 48 percent jump in just over 20 years. 
  • The highest rates of suicide each year were seen among American Indian/Alaska Native populations. However, the biggest relative increase was among Asian/Pacific Islanders. Incidence of suicide in this population rose from 6.0 per 100,000 in 1999 to 9.5 per 100,000 in 2020, a 58 percent increase.
  • Among age groups, the smallest increase in suicide rates over the period occurred among youth aged 10-14, an uptick of 5 percent. Nonetheless, suicide was still the leading cause of death for this demographic.
  • Perhaps the most striking trend is among people in midlife. For adults aged 45-64, the suicide rate swelled from 13.3 to 19.6 per 100,000 over the 20-year period. Mental health experts attribute this rise to factors such as social isolation, declining economic stability, and substance abuse.
  • The most common method people used to take their own life was firearms. However, suicide through suffocation, mainly hanging or strangulation, increased from 5.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 6.6 per 100,000 in 2020, marking a 39 percent rise.
  • Geographic trends revealed substantial increases in suicide mortality across both rural and urban areas, highlighting the widespread nature of the problem as a public health issue.
  • The gender gap also narrowed. In 1999, about four times as many men died by suicide than women. By 2020, more men still died by suicide, but by then, the difference shrunk to about 3.5 times as many men versus women. This suggests that historical notions of women attempting, but rarely dying, by suicide are inaccurate.
  • The year 2022 recorded the highest number of suicides, exceeding 2018, the next closest year, by more than 1,000 deaths. The trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic may be to blame. While affecting all ages, lockdowns, death, and turmoil hit younger generations harder. This mirrors prior research suggesting major traumas like the 1918 flu pandemic can heighten suicide risk for years.

Expert Commentary

“Nine in ten Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. The new suicide death data reported by CDC illustrates why. One life lost to suicide is one too many. Yet, too many people still believe asking for help is a sign of weakness,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a CDC media release.

Debra Houry, MD, the CDC’s Chief Medical Officer, agreed. She emphasized the urgent need for societal action to prevent these preventable tragedies. “The troubling increase in suicides requires immediate action across our society to address the staggering loss of life from tragedies that are preventable. Everyone can play a role in efforts to save lives and reverse the rise in suicide deaths,” she said.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD said that the report underscored the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America, calling mental health the defining public health and societal challenge of our time.

 “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another,” Murthy said. 

Prevention Efforts

The government has proactively taken steps to bolster suicide prevention. In its first year of operation, the newly revamped national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline fielded more than five million calls, texts, and chats. This is a 35 percent increase from the old 10-digit number that it replaced. In addition to streamlined access, the service beefed up its offerings by adding text-based responses, Spanish language operators, and a more responsive chat line. 

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If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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