The number of people who have died by suicide rose between 2020 and 2021 after a brief period of decline, according to preliminary data released Friday by CBS. National Center for Health Statistics.
It’s a sign, experts say, that suicide rates are rising back to pre-pandemic levels.
In 2021, 47,646 people in the United States died by suicide, up from 45,979 in 2020. That’s an increase of almost 4%.
There was hope among experts that the suicide rate may have peaked in 2018, after rising steadily for nearly two decades. The numbers decreased slightly in both 2019 and 2020.
The reasons for those declines are unclear, said Julie Cerel, director of the Suicide Prevention and Exposure Lab at the University of Kentucky.
“In 2019, something changed,” she said. “We’ll never know if it’s because we did something right or not.”
Despite the stress associated with the pandemic, suicide rates have not increased in 2020. Cerel said he was not surprised.
“People took care of each other early in the pandemic,” she said. Families were also largely together in their homes, working and studying remotely. People tend to die by suicide when others aren’t around, Cerel said.
The increases in 2021 may partly reflect a return to normalcy.
The report found that men ages 15 to 24 are still at higher risk than other groups. In 2021, there were 24.1 suicides per 100,000 people in this group, up from 22.4 per 100,000 in 2020, an 8% increase.
The higher rates among younger men may be because they are more likely to engage in risky behavior and have more access to the deadliest drugs in terms of suicide attempts, said Michael Lindsey, dean of the New York University Silver School of Social Work. Lindsey’s research focuses on youth suicide prevention, especially black youth.
The new report did not provide a racial and ethnic breakdown of recent suicides. However, previous research pointed to a worrying rise among young black men.
Suicide rates also increased for men ages 24 to 44, as well as ages 65 to 74.
While men are historically more likely to die by suicide than women, the report focused on another alarming trend: suicides among girls of high school age.
In 2020, 204 girls aged 10 to 14 died by suicide. In 2021, that number rose to 237, a 16% increase. However, the total numbers are so low in this age group that they are not considered statistically significant.
“We can’t jump to conclusions,” Cerel said. “But we also have to watch out for younger girls.”
Lindsey said all the increases mentioned in the new report reflect a demand for more mental health professionals to address the growing problem.
“There is not the required number of providers to meet the huge need,” he said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at: 800-273-8255text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.