By Kathleen Doheny
June 7, 2018 -- Suicide is on the rise across the U.S., claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older in 2016, according to new data from the CDC.
It is now the 10th leading cause of death in this country. Among the top 10, suicide, Alzheimer’s, and drug overdoses are the only ones increasing, CDC officials say. Middle-age adults are among the hardest hit by suicide, the officials found.
The CDC said the nation’s suicide rate is growing among many age groups.
"Between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate increased among all age groups younger than 75 years," said Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC, who led a media briefing on the topic Thursday. The rates have gone up more than 30% in half of all states since 1999, she says.
More than half of those who died by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition, the researchers found. But most did have life problems. "Those who died by suicide were somewhat more likely to struggle with relationship problems or loss, other life stresses, or deal with impending crises," Schuchat says. "But these issues were [found] in all, with or without a mental health condition."
Firearms were found to be the most common method of suicide, again used by those both with and without mental health issues. They were the source of about half of all suicides, the researchers say, and that percentage has stayed stable over the years.
Physical health problems were present in about a fifth of suicide victims, the CDC found. But researchers cannot say what percentage of those had severe pain as their main problem.
CDC Statistics: Closer Look
CDC researchers looked at state-level trends from 1999 to 2016. They also looked at data from 2015 from the CDC National Violent Death Reporting System, which covered 27 states, to look at the specifics of suicide among people both with and without known mental health conditions.
The researchers broke down the more than 20,000 suicides reported in 2015 in 27 states by age group. Nearly 3,000 were ages 10 to 24, while more than 6,000 were ages 25 to 44. Among those 45 to 54, there were more than 7,700; about 3,500 among those 65 and older.
During the 1999-2016 study period, the percent increases in suicide rates varied from under 6% in Delaware, the lowest, to over 57% in North Dakota. Nevada had a slight decrease of 1%.
"Suicide is preventable," Schuchat says. The CDC has a goal of lowering it by 20% by 2025. That can be done, she says, only if states and communities come up with comprehensive programs.
She cites an Air Force program that has 11 policy and education initiatives in place. Among other measures, it boosts social support and shifts the culture away from suicide as an individual concern to a community concern, she says. As a result, suicides fell by 33%.
Among the crucial measures, Schuchat says, are programs that promote safe storage of medications and firearms for people who are more likely to commit suicide. Communities also need to ''encourage connectivity so people are less likely to feel alone or isolated."
People need to learn what things make suicide more likely, officials say. These include previous attempts, a recent stressful event, a history of mental illness or substance abuse, and easy access to firearms. Reaching out to anyone at risk or who talks about suicide is crucial, experts say.
A noted suicide prevention researcher says the actual figures may be higher.
The new CDC statistics may be underestimated because many suicides are actually classified as ''accidental deaths," says Mark S. Kaplan, DPh, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. "Some are classified as unintentional self-injury when in fact, if you take a closer look, they look more like suicide. The true incidence of suicide is unknown."
That's partly due to the stigma that still surrounds people contemplating suicide or dealing with mental health issues, he says.
He cites ongoing effects of the recession from 2007 to 2009 for contributing to what he terms ''deaths of despair" by suicide. Some people, he says, never recovered economically and their jobs never returned.