America’s mental-health crisis drove suicides to a record-high number last year. [WSJ]
Nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. lost their lives to suicide in 2022, according to a provisional tally from the National Center for Health Statistics. The agency said the final count would likely be higher. The suicide rate of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people reached its highest level since 1941.
U.S. suicides per 100,000Source: National Center for Health Statistics Note: Provisional for 2022
record reflects broad struggles to help people in mental distress following a pandemic that killed more than one million in the U.S., upended the economy and left many isolated and afraid. A shortage of healthcare workers, an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply and the ubiquity of firearms have facilitated the rise in suicides, mental-health experts said.
“There was a rupture in our economic health and social fabric. We’re still experiencing the aftereffects of that,” said Jeffrey Leichter, a psychologist who connects mental health and primary care at Sanford Health, an operator of hospitals and clinics in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa.
Men 75 and older had the highest suicide rate last year at nearly 44 per 100,000 people, double that for people 15-24. Firearm-related suicides become more common with age as people experience declining health, the loss of loved ones and social isolation. While women have consistently been found to have suicidal thoughts more commonly, men are four times as likely to die by suicide.
U.S. suicide rates per 100,000, by age Source: National Center for Health Statistics*Prov
Some groups remain at extreme risk. Suicide rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are almost double the rates for other Americans.
But there is some evidence that efforts to reach people in crisis are helping. Suicide rates for children 10-14 and people 15-24 declined by 18% and 9%, respectively, last year from 2021, bringing suicide rates in those groups back to prepandemic levels.
Life expectancy in the U.S. improved to 77.5 years in 2022 from 76.4 in 2021, largely because of fewer deaths from Covid-19, a separate report from the statistics agency showed. In 2021, life expectancy in the U.S. fell to the lowest level since 1996 after Covid-19 and opioid overdoses drove up deaths.
Adults are learning how to talk to children about suicide, said Dr. Katie Hurley, senior clinical adviser at the Jed Foundation, a suicide-prevention group. More work is necessary to reach women 25-34, she said. They were the only group of women for which suicide rates increased significantly in 2022.
“They’re taking on young adulthood while the world is on fire,” Hurley said.
Officials are trying to widen familiarity with a national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that received a nationwide number, 988, last year. About 6% of some 5,000 respondents in a study published in October in the journal JAMA Network Open reported using 988 when they were in serious psychological distress. About a third of them said they would use the lifeline in the future.
Mental-health care is harder to find than before the pandemic. About half of people in the U.S. live in an area without a mental-health professional, federal data show, and some 8,500 more would be needed to fill the gap. Most people rely on family doctors for mental-health care, said Leichter at Sanford Health.
Suicides are difficult to predict even by clinicians, research shows.
Talkspace, an online therapy provider, is using artificial intelligence to help mental-health providers identify patients at risk for suicide. New York City this month said it would make a Talkspace app called TeenSpace available free to teenagers 13-17.
“People are feeling worse,” said Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, a psychiatrist and Talkspace’s chief medical officer. “That’s why people are using these services more.”
Help is available: Reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988.