After two years of steady decline, the rate of suicide deaths in the United States rose sharply in 2021, reversing the progress made in 2020 and 2019.
According to CNN, 47,646 Americans take their own lives over the course of the year 2021, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which amounts to roughly one death every 11 minutes.
Although suicide rates have gone up over the past 20 years by about 31 percent, there was a noticeable decline in the years 2019 and 2020. The totals in 2021 reversed the declines of the preceding two years and brought the rates back to nearly record-high totals, resulting in about 14 suicides for every 100,000 people. The report also revealed an ongoing gender disparity only getting larger, as men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women; in 2021, there were 23 suicides for every 100,000 men, against just 6 for every 100,000 women.
As a result, suicide remains one of the leading causes of premature death in the United States overall, and is the second-leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 34. From 2020 to 2021, there were increases in suicides among girls aged 10 to 14, more than any other age group, followed by a similar increase in suicides among boys and young men between the ages of 15 and 24.
Many believe that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent mass lockdowns have played a role in the spike in suicides and overall mental health crises. But some experts claim that some underlying personal motivations ultimately never change, even despite such drastic national circumstances.
“There is individual difference that exists with what might make me lose hope versus you,” said Sarah Brummett, director of the executive committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. “But taking a step back, when we’re talking about the drivers for suicidal despair, we’re talking about pain and the loss of hope that things can get better.”
“Traditionally, we thought of suicide as linear,” says Justin Baker, psychologist and assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. “First, you start having thoughts, and you maybe practice with attempts, and then you actually attempt. But people can jump these phases. This may be someone that has previously never struggled with suicide. So universal screening measures would have missed that kind of individual.”
Baker explains that, in most suicide cases, a victim finds themselves completely overwhelmed by any number of external factors that seemingly pile up all at once, such as heartbreak, violence or trauma, a financial crisis, or some other major change to their way of life. Such an individual “can’t think their way through that situation or find an alternative strategy to get out,” Baker explained. “They’re just flooded and overwhelmed, and so they see suicide as the solution to that immense distress or pain.”