Those figures also revealed a particularly concerning jump: 530 people took their life with a gun in 2022, an 8% increase over the previous year and a 78% increase since 2004.

As in past years, firearms were the most common means of suicide, and the percentage is rising. Since 2004, guns have accounted for roughly half of the suicides in Wisconsin. But last year, the share grew to nearly 60%.

Since 2004, other means of suicide have also increased. In 2022, suffocation — a term that includes hanging — accounted for 21% of suicides, according to the data.

The only areas of decrease between 2021 and last year were among young people and Native Americans, according the CDC data.

Early data suggests young women increasingly at risk for suicide

A recent report from Sara Kohlbeck and Katherine McCoy at the Medical College of Wisconsin found young women, especially young Black women, are increasingly showing up at emergency departments presenting suicidal behavior and suspected suicide attempts.

This indicates a new trend in suicide, joining what continues to be the most at-risk groups, which are white middle-aged men and white men 75 and older, said Kohlbeck, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry.

“With middle-aged white males, we think about a number of things: not just access to lethal means, but also, potentially, employment issues and relationship issues,” said Kohlbeck, who is also the director of Suicide Research and Healing in the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College. “Those life transitions happening in middle age can be really distressing for folks.”

Sara Kohlbeck, the director of Suicide Research and Healing in the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The loss of a spouse, changing relationships, declining agility, rugged individualism and no longer feeling valuable in in their community can all contribute to the sense that life has stopped having meaning, Kohlbeck said.

That’s a problem in Wisconsin, which is considered an aging state. It’s projected that by 2040, about 30% of Wisconsin’s population will be 60 or older. From 1970 to 2010, that population floated between 15% and 19%.

“We do see these peaks and valleys in suicide when you look at age groups. We see higher rates in folks who are middle-aged, and then again, another peak at 75 and older,” Kohlbeck said. “Thinking about these different transitions in life and how that impacts suicide is important.”

And while strides have been made to speak more openly about mental health struggles, stigma continues to especially haunt older men, who are often loath to admit they’re in pain, Kohlbeck said.

People less likely to survive a suicide attempt when guns are involved

Something that Kohlbeck hears a lot in her work is that if someone wants to end their life, they will find a way.

But in studying the epidemiology of suicide, Kohlbeck has come to understand that it isn’t just one thing that pushes someone over the edge, nor is the thought of taking one’s life cemented. It’s a compounding of factors, which speaks to the complexity of suicidal ideation.

Research has found that if someone attempts suicide but the act is not completed, a small minority — one in 10 — of those people go on to die by suicide.

But if that first attempt is with a gun, it’s unlikely the person will survive, because more than 90% of people who attempt to take their life die when their means is a firearm.

For that reason, suicide prevention advocates have explored ways to separate people in crisis from lethal means.

One approach is a so-called “red-flag” law that would allow police to remove guns from people if a judge finds the person in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. Previous attempts to pass such a law failed to make it through the state Legislature.

Another approach is a voluntary program that allows people to bring firearms to gun stores for temporary storage. For details and a list and map of participating stores, visit this site operated by Be There for Wisconsin Veterans. The program is open to all gun owners, not just veterans.

Mental health resources

Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. She welcomes story tips and feedback. You can reach her at or view her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert. If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text “Hopeline” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

John Diedrich is an investigative reporter and 2022-23 O’Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University examining the full extent of gun deaths in Wisconsin and efforts to prevent these deaths. He can be reached at 414-224-2408 or