Suicide rates soared to the highest number on record in 2022 as nearly 50,000 Americans took their own lives, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Aug. 10.
The latest report suggests a notable increase in suicides since 2021 following two consecutive years of modest declines in 2019 and 2020.
According to the CDC's provisional data, an estimated 49,449 Americans committed suicide in 2022, or nearly 15 deaths for every 100,000 people, up 2.6 percent from 48,183 deaths by suicide in 2021, and surpassing the peak of 48,344 in 2018.
Previously in 2019 and 2020, the suicide rate fell to 47,511 and 45,979 respectively, according to the CDC, although it is unclear exactly what prompted the decline.
Suicide is now the eleventh-leading cause of death in the United States, compared to 2020 when it was the twelfth-leading cause, the latest data suggest.
The latest figures—which are based on death certificates received by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and may change—show that America is facing a growing mental health crisis, according to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra.
"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," Mr. Becerra said. "The Biden-Harris Administration is making unprecedented investments to transform how mental health is understood, accessed, and treated as part of President Biden’s Unity Agenda. We must continue to eliminate the stigmatization of mental health and make care available to all Americans."
According to the latest CDC report, men accounted for approximately 79 percent of the total number of suicides in 2022, although rates increased among both males and females at 3.8 percent among American women, and 2.3 percent among American men.
The largest increase in suicides was seen among older adults, according to the CDC.
Rates Increased Among Older Adults
Among Americans ages 45 to 64 there was a 6.6 percent increase in suicides, the data show. In those older than 65, the CDC reported an 8.1 percent increase year-on-year.
Many middle-aged and elderly people experience problems like losing a job or losing a spouse. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer, said it was important to reduce stigma and other obstacles to them getting assistance.
Meanwhile, among the racial and ethnic groups the CDC tracks, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders had the largest increase in suicide in 2022, with a 15.9 percent rise, the CDC data show.
Multiracial individuals saw suicide rates increase by 7.9 percent while rates rose 5.7 percent among Asians and 3.6 percent among black or African Americans.
However, the CDC noted a decline in suicide rates among American Indians/Alaska Natives, where suicide rates declined 6.1 percent year on year.
The health agency also noted a decline in suicide rates among individuals aged 10–24, approximately 8.4 percent.
While it is unclear what prompted the rise in the number of suicides among Americans, experts have said the increase could be driven by a multitude of factors such as increasing rates of depression and the limited availability of mental health services.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, which for many led to job losses, financial instability, isolation, and loneliness, may have also played a role.
Pandemic Prompts Anxiety, Depression
A March 2023 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that by early 2021, 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression over the course of the pandemic, although that figure dropped to approximately 3 in 10 adults as the pandemic continued.
Deb Stone, a behavioral scientist at the CDC Injury Center, told The Washington Times earlier this year that suicide rates might be stable or even decline during a disaster, and rise afterward, "as the longer-term sequela of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among populations struggling with preexisting inequities."
Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and published last month found that the majority of Americans (82 percent) are still not familiar with or have not heard of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a resource aimed at helping people in mental health, substance use, and suicide crises get connected to the support they may need.
Final data from the CDC on suicide rates will be available later this year.
"Today’s report underscores the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America. Mental health has become the defining public health and societal challenge of our time. Far too many people and their families are suffering and feeling alone," said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
"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," he added.
As part of its effort to combat the rising suicide rate among Americans and address the nation’s mental health crisis, the Biden administration has announced a string of initiatives aimed at lowering and preventing such deaths, including its National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that launched last year allowing anyone in the United States to dial 988 to reach mental health specialists.