CDC Reports Alarming Changes in American Suicide Statistics

"Our data suggests it's more than a mental health issue."


On Monday, designer Kate Spade was found dead by suicide in her Upper East Side apartment, adding another tragic entry to the rapidly growing list of people who have died by suicide in the United States. On Thursday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscored the gravity of this public health issue, warning that suicide has increased in nearly every state between 1999 and 2016 and that the causes go beyond typical mental health issues like depression.

“Our data suggests it’s more than a mental health issue,” said Deborah Stone, a behavioral scientist at the CDC in a teleconference on Thursday. “We know that severe depression can lead to suicide, but it is very rare among those with severe depression. Suicide is kind of a special case, one that we know is preventable. I don’t think we can just leave this to the mental health disciplines to manage.” The study’s findings show that depression is just one of many risk factors for suicide and suggest that providing mental health services may not be enough to prevent them from happening. Many mental health illnesses go un-diagnosed and even unnoticed by close friends and family, they note, which can contribute to suicide ideation.

Suicide rate adjusted for population. The suicide rate for males is sometimes as much as three times that of females. 

National Institute of Mental Health 

The study showed that, between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates have increased more 30% in half of states, leading to nearly 45,000 deaths in Americans over age 10 in 2016. Additionally, it showed that adolescents are particularly vulnerable: For youths aged 10 to 19, suicide is the second-leading cause of death, and half of lifetime mental illness begins before age 14. These statistics are particularly valuable because they open the scope of suicide analysis and treatment: Emphasizing community efforts, the team notes, can help tackle the societally linked causes and risk factors of suicide, like economic and physical stress and even bad breakups.

Stone was adamant that we be on the lookout for transitional periods that can leave many people vulnerable to suicide ideation. “Be aware of transitions,” said Stone. “A person moving from one system to another. Transitions from the military out of the military or from pro-sports to post-pro sports can also be an issue.”

In the future, these researchers hope that their data will inspire people to reach out to others in their communities — not only with licensed mental health services, but through more simple means like “encouraging friendliness.”

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