New federal data offers a sobering indicator of Americans’ mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the overall suicide rate and total number of suicides increased in the US by approximately 4% from 2020 to 2021, according to an analysis of provisional data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
A total of 1,667 more suicides occurred in 2021 than in 2020, amounting to 47,646 deaths by suicide overall, according to the report. At the same time, the suicide rate rose from 13.5 per 100,000 standard population in 2020 to 14.0 per 100,000.
Both increases reversed two consecutive years of declines in suicides and suicide rates, including in 2020, the year the pandemic took hold and a year in which suicide fell out of the top 10 causes of death in the US The number of suicide deaths in 2021 was about 1% lower than the record high of 48,344 suicides reported in 2018, according to the new report.
Researchers noted the figures are provisional and subject to change, yet said the analysis is based on more than 99% of expected death records and that its findings are “expected to be consistent with final 2021 data.”
The number of suicides was higher for nearly every month in 2021 compared with 2020, with the exceptions of January, February and July. August saw the largest number of suicides in a month in 2021, with 4,328 deaths, while October had the greatest percentage difference in year-over-year numbers, with suicides 11% higher in 2021 than during the same month in 2020.
Among males, the number of suicides last year was 4% higher than in 2020 at 38.025 deaths, while the rate of suicide increased 3% from 22 deaths per 100,000 to 22.7 per 100,000. The rate increased for males between the ages of 15 and 24 by 8%, as well as by 4% for those between 25 and 34, by 6% for those 35 to 44 years old and by 6% among those 65 to 74.
Among women, the total number of suicides increased by 2% from 9.426 in 2020 to 9.621 in 2021, while the rate saw a statistically insignificant rise to 5.6 deaths per 100,000 from 5.5 per 100,000.
The latest findings follow prior-year data showing that the US suicide rate declined 3% from 2019 to 2020. That came on the heels of a 2% decline from 2018 to 2019.
“There was and still is a real concern about what impact the pandemic will have on suicide,” Colleen Carr, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, told US News earlier this year. “It’s important to still keep thinking about what that impact looks like long-term.”
The new report does not include data on suicide rates by race or ethnicity in 2021. Prior data showed that the rate of suicide deaths among whites overall fell by 4.5% from 2019 to 2020, and that there was no statistically significant change in the rate of such deaths among other broad racial and ethnic groups. More granular data showed that the rate among Hispanic males rose by 5.7% and soared by 29% among multiracial females. White females saw a nearly 10% decrease in suicide rate from 2019 to 2020, while the rate among white males fell by about 3%.
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