New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found suicide rates in the United States have increased by 1.4%.
The information comes from the CDC’s latest mortality report, which analyzed deaths and the death rate from 2018, the most recent year with available numbers. There were 48,344 deaths by suicide in 2018, an increase in 1,171 additional deaths from 2017. However, the 2017 mortality report saw a suicide rate increase of nearly 4% from the previous year. So while the suicide rate is still rising, it seems to be slowing down slightly.
To be clear, the general outlook on suicide is still disappointing. Suicide remained the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. (Other leading causes of death in the report included heart disease at the top, followed by cancer.)
Crisis Text Line, a mental health resource hotline, shared data following the news of the CDC report that underscores concern over suicide rates. The organization had an 11% increase in texts about suicide from 2018 to 2019 and a 25% increase in texts about suicide from 2017 to 2018.
But experts say that there’s still hope, and there are evidence-based methods that reduce the risk of suicide for people.
“Suicide is a nationwide public health problem requiring a public health approach to prevention that includes research, education, advocacy and support for those affected by suicide,” Jill M. Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told HuffPost. “Resources are essential as is a trained workforce to assist people during a crisis.”
Funding for the research Harkavy-Friedman mentioned is absolutely essential. So is increasing access to mental health services for people. The expense of treatment, availability of professionals and the stigma of getting help are huge barriers to reducing suicide. It’s estimated that 90% of people who die by suicide are dealing with a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.
There are also other some small, tangible ways you can personally make a difference. Make sure you:
Reach out to your loved ones, even if they act like or say nothing is wrong.
It’s not enough to encourage someone to “speak up” if they’re having a hard time. As Harkavy-Friedman mentioned, it’s important to actively show up for your loved ones.
“It is up to us to maintain a safe, caring and helpful environment where the person thinking about suicide feels it is safe to share their thoughts and feelings,” she said. “However, we can’t just wait for the person in distress to reach out. We have to reach out to them and run towards them rather than away.”
Understand that suicide isn’t a result of one bad situation.
A common question that comes up when discussing suicide is “why?” That answer usually becomes simplified, pegging it to a singular problem. The majority of the time, more is at play.
“Suicide is complex and occurs when a host of contributing factors converge in the context of stress and access to lethal means,” Harkavy-Friedman said. “There’s never one cause.”
Talk about mental health and suicide without judgment.
You wouldn’t talk about someone living with cancer with disgust or negativity. The same should apply to mental health issues.
You can do this by normalizing mental health conversations among loved ones, which sends the message that you can be a trusted form of support. You also need to constantly make your own mental health a priority, just like you would for your physical health.
“Promoting mental health awareness, self-care, resilience and a positive attitude to seeking assistance and resources, when needed, and maintaining a safe environment are all part of the process of reducing suicide,” Harkavy-Friedman said.
Remember that suicide is an issue that affects all of us in some way.
Suicide is not just someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help improve outcomes, Harkavy-Friedman noted.
“More than half of us have been touched by suicide which means people you know have lost someone,” Harkavy-Friedman said. “Suicide prevention is in everyone’s domain. We all play a role in preventing suicide, whether it is taking care of yourself or reaching out to someone who is in the deep emotional pain that leads to suicide.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.