After two years of decline, suicide rate rises again in 2021

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The number of suicides has been rising for decades and reached its highest point of 48,344 in 2018. Many expected the pandemic to lead to an increase in suicides, but in 2020 the number fell for the second year in a row to 45,979.

The decline looked set to end in 2021, with a total of 48,183 suicides.

Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said past pandemics, wars and natural disasters have also seen temporary declines in suicide rates as communities band together to weather the crisis.

Collective emergencies bring with them “layoffs, psychological gearing up and resilience, and working against a common enemy,” Dr. Moutier said. “That will subside, and then you’ll see a return to suicide rates. Which is exactly what we feared would happen. And it has happened, at least in 2021.”

The CDC’s Dr. Stone said this also happened during the 1918 influenza pandemic. “In the long term, some of the populations most affected by the crisis will continue to grapple with the effects of the crisis, which may have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities,” she said.

The data also revealed good news: The suicide rate among Americans 45 to 64 years old decreased by 12.4 percent, with significant declines among white, Hispanic and Asian people in that age group.

This positive trend, Dr. Moutier noted, was sometimes accompanied by a negative trend in younger age groups. “What is changing in terms of the environment and access to lethal means and culture?” He said. “It’s almost like we have different subcultures depending on your generation and the community you’re living in.”

One factor in the rising rates of suicide among younger age groups is “the marked weakening of our mental health response system,” which has made it extraordinarily challenging to care for children and adolescents in crisis, said Mitch, chief science officer of the U.S. Prinstein said psychological association.

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