US suicide rate is up 35 percent since 1999, due to large number of firearms

More than 700 000 people die every year due to suicide, which is a major national public health issue in the United States, which has one of the highest suicide rates among wealthy nations.

The suicide rate in the United States increased by 35 percent since 1999, making suicide the nation’s 10th-leading cause of death.

The number of recorded suicides increased from 45,979 in 2020 to 47,646 in 2021, up from 42,773 in 2014, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Firearms are the most common method used in suicides, and many experts attribute the high number of self-inflicted fatalities here to the ease of access to deadly weapons.

Between 2000-2018, suicide mortality rates rose by 35 percent in the United States.

After reaching a peak of 14.5 deaths per 100,000 people—the highest rate in 50 years—suicide rates dropped by 2.1 percent in 2019, but researchers caution that the decline does not tell the full story of suicide mortality in the US.

“Prior to the pandemic, rates of mental health concerns, including suicidality, were alarming,” said Carol Dolan, a clinical associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University. “With the challenges of social isolation, anxiety, fear of contagion, uncertainty, chronic stress, and economic difficulties, it is not surprising that we are seeing further increases in mood and substance use disorders that are associated with suicidal behavior.”

Based on outcomes from past collectively experienced traumatic events, “the mental health consequences of the pandemic are likely to be present for a long time and peak after the pandemic ends,” Dolan says.

“Suicide is not an individual problem, but rather a societal problem,” said Sarah Lipson, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management. “There are failures at a system level that we must address, for these are the drivers that hold the most potential for large-scale prevention. I hope that folks gain a better understanding of the system-level drivers of suicide, as well as the ways in which discriminatory environments and policies shape inequalities and suicide risk.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018 national suicide rate for males was 3.7 times the rate for females, and suicide rates were higher in the most rural counties compared with the most urban counties.

Suicide is also the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 34.

JAMA Pediatrics study found that sexual minority youth are 3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.

In 2018, almost half of the 48,344 US suicide deaths involved a firearm.

Julia Raifman, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management, was the lead author of a recent study that examined the relationship between the minimum age of US handgun purchasers and suicide among adolescents.

She found that hundreds of suicides could be prevented each year in the United States if the 33 states where 18-year-olds are allowed to buy handguns raised the age limit to 21 years old.

“This study demonstrates the important role that policies can play in reducing suicide, particularly for populations at high risk, such as young adults,” said Raifman. “The United States has by far the highest level of firearm ownership in the world. This study contributes to a broad body of evidence that means restriction of firearms is effective for reducing suicide.”

Suicide rates are likely to rise as the earth warms, according to research published in Nature Climate Change. 

That study, led by Stanford economist Marshall Burke, found that projected temperature increases through 2050 could lead to an additional 21,000 suicides in the United States and Mexico.

“When talking about climate change, it’s often easy to think in abstractions. But the thousands of additional suicides that are likely to occur as a result of unmitigated climate change are not just a number, they represent tragic losses for families across the country,” said Burke, assistant professor of Earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford.

Researchers have recognized for centuries that suicides tend to peak during warmer months. But, many factors beyond temperature also vary seasonally – such as unemployment rates or the amount of daylight – and up to this point it has been difficult to disentangle the role of temperature from other risk factors.

“Suicide is one of the leading causes of death globally, and suicide rates in the U.S. have risen dramatically over the last 15 years. So better understanding the causes of suicide is a public health priority,” Burke said.

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