In the last decade, the number of people who die by suicide in the U.S. has increased — particularly amongst women. On Thursday, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) published a report that found that while suicide rates are higher in general for men, the number of women and girls who die by suicide has gotten higher in the last ten years.
"Basically what’s been happening is that for women, the rate [of suicide] increased about 2% per year between 2000 and 2007, but from 2007 and 2016 that went up to 3% per year," says Holly Hedegaard, MD, an injury epidemiologist and public health physician at the NCHS. "And that’s higher than the percent increase that we’re seeing for men, which is about 1% per year."
This increase was true across the board for all age groups, though the data did find that suicide rates were highest amongst women between the ages of 45 and 64. Dr. Hedegaard says that there was also a significant increase in rates of suicide amongst girls between the ages of 10 and 14, but she adds that this data was based on a small sample size.
This NCHS report builds on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research about women and suicide from 2016 — which found that rates of suicide had been on the rise amongst women since 1999 — and comes just a week after the CDC released a study that found that suicide rates in the U.S. overall have increased by 25% over a period of nearly 20 years.
By highlighting the groups who are most affected, maybe that can help prevention specialists understand and help.
Holly Hedegaard, MD
While there's no single cause of suicide, the CDC's report noted that many factors contribute to suicide amongst people who have a known history of mental health conditions as well as those who might not have a known mental illness. Some factors include a recent crisis, a substance use problem, or job/financial problems.
In that respect, Dr. Hedegaard says that the purpose of the NCHS report is to shed some more light on the people dying by suicide, so that we can hopefully prevent those numbers from rising.
"This data report is trying to provide the numbers for those who work in suicide prevention, and by highlighting the groups who are most affected, maybe that can help prevention specialists understand and help," she says.
And just like there's no simple answer for why suicide rates are rising at such a high rate, there's no one simple answer for what we can do about it. But there's a lot to be said for opening the discussion around mental health issues so that people don't feel as if they're suffering alone and for helping people get access to mental health care. But of course, that takes an entire society's worth of work — and it can't be done overnight. In the meantime, it's important to reach out to family members and friends who might be struggling with their mental health, and to ask for help when you need it yourself.