New Provisional CDC Suicide Death Data Is a Call to Action

Double Down on Suicide Prevention Efforts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today releases provisional data on suicide deaths for the year 2021. According to the new data, suicide deaths in the United States increased from 45,979 to 47,646 (4%) between the years 2020 and 2021.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, released the following statement regarding the CDC’s provisional data which do not include final national suicide rates for the year 2021.

At AFSP we understand how devastating and painful it is to lose a loved one to suicide. This CDC provisional suicide data invigorates our resolve to continue fighting so that we can see a day when suicide does not exist. Despite the data indicating an increase in suicide deaths in 2021, we remain hopeful that our public education and advocacy efforts are making a difference. While this new provisional data is concerning, the data shows that fewer people died by suicide in 2021 than in 2018.

As people interpret the newly released CDC report, it’s important to remember that suicide is complex, and we are still understanding through research how societal factors and historical context impact suicide at an individual level.

  • The data does not explain what contributed to the overall reported increases in suicide deaths. Suicide is complex, risk is dynamic, and an individual’s personal risk factors combined with precipitants such as experiences with isolation, depression, anxiety, economic stress, suicidal ideation, and access to lethal means may lead to periods of increased risk.
  • Suicide did not increase at the same rate for every age group. Rates remained relatively stable for females of all age groups and males ages 55 to 64 but increased for males in other age groups. The largest increase in the suicide rate occurred among males ages 15-24 – an 8% increase. Because the teen years are a time when we see the onset of mental health concerns as well as more suicide attempts, this makes early detection and prevention efforts for youth critical. Note: This being provisional data, more information is needed to understand within-group differences. 2020 data indicates higher rates among males ages 20-24 than males ages 15-19.
  • Further analysis of this provisional data is needed to understand impact in terms of race, ethnicity and other factors beyond age and sex. This provisional data does not include race, ethnicity, or geographical data. We also need much more research to consider suicide risk through the lens of social determinants such as income, access to health care, and other disparities in health and psychosocial stressors.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effect on our nation’s mental health are far from over. We cannot yet fully understand the entire impact of the pandemic on suicide deaths for the longer-term as it takes years to collect comprehensive data and analyze it in a meaningful way. Research has shown that people tend to come together during traumatic events initially and this can serve as a protective factor against suicide, though this societal cohesion may not persist as time passes. This is why sustained prevention education efforts and advocacy are needed. Protective factors that were activated during the pandemic – like community cohesion, normalizing the national dialog around mental health, and the increase in seeking help – can continue to help mitigate suicide risk and can likely save many more lives. It is certainly a time to make the implementation of suicide prevention efforts that are evidence-informed a top priority with an eye toward taking them to the broadest scale possible.

At AFSP, we remain dedicated to our mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide through efforts like:

  • Raising awareness and engaging state and federal policymakers to realize the full vision of 988, ensuring that all individuals have access to the new 988 suicide and crisis lifeline and a full continuum of community crisis services. 988 will continue to help increase public access to mental health and suicide prevention resources, encourage help-seeking for those who may be struggling with their mental health or have a loved one who is, and establish a comprehensive continuum of crisis care in our country.
  • Continuing to achieve the goal of reducing the annual suicide rate by 20% by 2025 through Project 2025 by partnering with organizations to embrace stronger evidence-based suicide prevention practices in critical settings like healthcare systems, emergency departments, corrections systems, and the firearms community where coordinated suicide prevention strategies can have a dramatic impact on saving lives. Suicide risk screening coupled with risk-reducing steps in healthcare settings, collaborating with large health systems and key accrediting professional organizations, can improve the acceptance and adoption of screening and preventive interventions as the standard of care.
  • Demanding more accessible and affordable mental health care: We all should have easy access to mental health care on a regular, ongoing basis. Assessment and treatment for mental health conditions must be accessible, culturally appropriate and effective. This kind of care can save lives, but only if individuals at risk can afford to obtain care. AFSP supports efforts to ensure that individuals receive the same insurance coverage for their mental health as their physical health, also known as “mental health parity.”

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, developing suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and providing support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, with an Advocacy office in Washington, DC, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Source: CDC