Suicides among young Americans, whose mental health problems during the coronavirus pandemic reached crisis proportions, declined sharply in 2022, while rates for older groups — especially men — rose, according to data released by the government Wednesday.
The increase in suicides among people older than 35 was responsible for an overall 1 percent rise in the suicide rate to a record high of 14.3 per 100,000 people since 2021, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The total number of suicides last year — 49,449 — rose by 3 percent and is expected to increase further when final data is available.
Men, who comprise the vast majority of suicides each year, saw a 2 percent jump in their total, to 39,255, resuming a long trend of increases after two years of small declines. Suicides among women rose 4 percent, to 10,194, but the rate remained roughly the same as it has been for decades.
More than half of all suicides involved guns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a separate analysis released Thursday. The agency reported an 11 percent increase in suicides by firearm between 2019 and 2022, to the highest rate it has ever recorded — 8.1 per 100,000 people.
Men comprised the vast majority, about 87 percent, of suicides by firearm last year.
The rise in suicide by firearms over a three-year period that included the coronavirus pandemic affected all racial and ethnic groups, but not equally, according to researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. American Indian and Alaska Native people saw the largest increase — a 66 percent jump in suicide by guns. White Americans continued to use guns to take their own lives at the highest rate, 11.1 per 100,000 in 2022.
African American women experienced a 75 percent jump in suicides by firearm over the three years.
David Hemenway, co-director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and a longtime researcher of firearm suicides, said a suicide attempt is often an impulsive act. Overwhelming evidence shows the act is much more likely to result in death if a gun is available.
If a gun is involved, suicide attempts result in fatalities about 90 percent of the time, Hemenway said. Most other methods cause deaths in just a small fraction of attempts, he said.
“Where there are guns, people tend to use the guns,” Hemenway said. “And they die.”
Overall suicide data showed that people older than 75 posted the highest suicide rates since at least 1999.
Men 75 years and older continued to take their own lives at by far the highest rate, at 43.7 per 100,000. The suicide rate for men overall in 2022 was the highest ever, according to government data published online that goes back to the 1960s.
Women had the highest rates of suicide in middle age, peaking from 35 to 64 years old, though the rate for that group has declined since 2015. Younger women, from age 15 to 34, and women older than 75 saw suicide rates higher than at any time since at least 1999. The suicide rate for women overall in 2022 was well below its peak in the early 1970s.
In 2021, the CDC, which houses the NCHS, released a report showing that nearly a quarter of U.S. high-schoolers had seriously considered suicide in 2021, part of an alarming wave of hopelessness and other mental health problems that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.
The new suicide data provides a glimmer of improvement. Suicide rates in 2022 dropped 18 percent among 10- to 14-year-olds and 9 percent among 15- to 24-year-olds. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, the rate declined for men and increased for women.
“This is a hopeful sign, and a reminder that we must continue to implement interventions that we know can help people,” Christine Yu Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said in an email.
Native Americans continue to suffer the highest rates of suicide. White people are twice as likely to die by suicide as Black or Hispanic people. Asian people have the lowest rates of suicide.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit 988lifeline.org or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.