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Suicide Rate Increases: What's Behind the Numbers?

Understanding the CDC's recent report

In 2013, more than 41,000 people committed suicide. This startling figure is part of a steady uptick in suicide rates since 1999. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1999 marked a low in the national suicide rate. A new report from the organization shows that the suicide rate has been steadily climbing ever since, producing a 24% increase in the overall national suicide rate.

Suicide Statistics: An Increase in Suicide Among Almost All Age Groups

The new report pulled suicide data from 1999-2014, and found a shocking and steady rise in suicide across all groups except for seniors over the age of 75 and some black males. Highlights from the report include:

  • A tripling in the suicide rate among girls ages 10-14, and a massive increase in the female suicide rate across the board. Historically, men have killed themselves at 3.5 times the rate of women, but women across all age groups have seen a surge in suicides. Men still kill themselves more frequently than women, but the gender gap is closing.
  • Middle-aged men and women saw the largest increase in suicide overall.
  • Suicide methods are changing, with more people relying on suffocation-based methods, such as hanging.
  • The suicide rate among people over the age of 75 remains higher than any other age group, but the absolute rate of suicides has dropped in this group.
  • California typically has a lower suicide rate than the national average, but suicides in this state have steadily ticked up.
  • Mental health funding for suicide prevention efforts has not decreased, but it also has not increased to keep up with the surge in suicides.

What's Behind the Numbers?

The report didn't directly assess what's contributing to the increase in suicides, but the CDC speculates that there may be a few reasons:

  • Among members of the middle class, the Great Recession hit particularly hard. The surge in suicides among this age group could be due to thwarted dreams and expectations coupled with intense economic hardships.
  • The increase could be partially due to the overall lull in suicides that occurred at the beginning of the study, in 1999, when the economy was in excellent shape.
  • Lack of access to mental health care, particularly quality care, continues to be a problem.

Warning Signs of Suicide

A number of myths continue to persist regarding suicide. One of the most damaging is that people threaten suicide to manipulate loved ones, or that a threat to kill oneself should not be taken seriously. People talk about suicide when life feels hopeless. Often, these discussions are the only way they know to reach for help. Some warning signs that a loved one may be in danger of committing suicide include:

  • A recent suicide attempt. Someone who survives an attempted suicide but who does not get mental health care may again attempt suicide when life becomes too difficult to manage.
  • Threats of suicide, or talking about wanting to end it all.
  • Proclamations that life is not worth living. Most research shows not that suicidal people want to die, per se, but instead that they just can't imagine another day in a life that feels unbearable.
  • Drafting a will, giving away beloved possessions, or saying goodbye. Many people who commit suicide have conflicted feelings about doing so, and want to ensure that everything is in place when they die.
  • Purchasing a weapon.
  • Stopping efforts to get better by ending therapy, ceasing discussions with friends, or dropping out of school.
  • A sudden improvement in mood. People who have been depressed for a long time may actually find relief when they decide to kill themselves. If your loved one has been unhappy for a long time, has not sought treatment, and nothing about his or her life has changed, an improvement of mood might actually be a bad sign.
  • A sudden change in life circumstances. In people who are depressed or who otherwise feel overwhelmed, a breakup, divorce, job loss, or significant financial setback can be a push toward ending it all.

Helping a Suicidal Loved One

If a loved one is suicidal, there are two things you must know:

  1. People do not typically use suicide as a manipulative ploy, and all suicidal threats should be taken seriously;
  2. While you can help, you cannot stop someone from killing themselves if they are bound and determined to do so. You are responsible for being kind to a loved one, but you cannot be held responsible for someone else's life or decisions.

If you are concerned that someone you love may be suicidal, try the following:

  • Offer to spend some time with them. Isolation can increase suicidal thoughts, and feeling less alone may help. Simply having a break from the pain of depression may inspire your loved one to keep trying.
  • Offer to help them find treatment.
  • Try to ensure that your loved one does not have access to weapons
  • Call a suicide hotline, or encourage your loved one to do so.
  • Ask your loved one to commit to not harming themselves, and to calling you or someone else if they feel compelled to self-harm.
  • Don't guilt your loved one or minimize their problems. You might think that this strategy will encourage him or her to stay alive, but it is more likely to increase isolation and depression.


Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999-2014. (2016, April 22). Retrieved from

U.S. suicide rates up, especially for women. (2016, April 22). Retrieved from

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