The United States recorded its highest number of suicides last year, with more than 49,000 people taking their own lives in 2022, according to newly released government data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted new data on Thursday suggesting suicides were becoming more common in the US than at any time since World War II.
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US suicides steadily rose from the early 2000s until 2018, when the national rate hit its highest level since 1941. That year saw about 48,300 suicide deaths – or 14.2 for every 100,000 Americans.
The rate fell slightly in 2019 and dropped again in 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some experts tied that to a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and natural disasters when people tend to pull together and support each other.
But in 2021, suicides rose 4 percent. Last year, according to the new data, the number jumped by more than 1,000, to 49,449 – about a 3 percent increase compared to the year before.
The CDC data showed that men accounted for approximately 79 percent of the total number of suicides in 2022.
“Nine in 10 Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. The new suicide death data reported by CDC illustrates why,” US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
He added that many people still believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Christina Wilbur, a 45-year-old Florida woman whose son shot himself to death last year, expressed her disappointment at the figures.
“There’s something wrong. The number should not be going up,” she said.
“My son should not have died,” she added. “I know it’s complicated, I really do. But we have to be able to do something. Something that we’re not doing. Because whatever we’re doing right now is not helping.”
Experts caution that the recent increase might be driven by a range of factors, including higher rates of depression and limited availability of mental health services.
But a main driver is the growing availability of guns, said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
A recent Johns Hopkins University analysis used preliminary 2022 data to calculate that the nation’s overall gun suicide rate rose last year to an all-time high. For the first time, the gun suicide rate among Black teens surpassed the rate among white teens, the researchers found.
“I don’t know if you can talk about suicide without talking about firearms,” Harkavy-Friedman said.
The largest increases were seen in older adults. Deaths rose nearly 7 percent in people ages 45 to 64, and more than 8 percent in people 65 and older. White men, in particular, have very high rates, the CDC said.
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.
Despite the grim statistics, there was a more than 8 percent drop in suicides in people ages 10 to 24 in 2022. That may be due to increased attention to youth mental health issues and a push for schools and others to focus on the problem, CDC officials said.