This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Suicide rates have reached an all-time high in the U.S., according to new data posted on Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Approximately 49,500 people died by suicide in 2022, a 2.6% increase over the prior year and the highest number on record.
Suicides have risen steadily in the country over the past two decades, per the National Center for Health Statistics.
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In 2000, some 29,350 people took their own lives.
A decade later, the number had risen to 38,364 — and it reached 48,344 in 2018.
There was a short-lived decline of suicides in 2020, when they dipped to 45,979 during the first year of the pandemic, but they began rising again in 2021.
“We’ve seen these increases for many, many years,” CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Debra Houry told Dr. Marc Siegel, Fox News medical contributor, during a radio interview on Thursday, August 10.
“There was a slight decline in 2019 and 2020, but over the past 15 years, we’ve been on this trajectory.”
“During the pandemic, social isolation increased and access to mental health services decreased.”
Many experts, including Dr. Rehan Aziz, a psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey, believe that the pandemic played a role in the suicide spike post-2020.
“During the pandemic, social isolation increased and access to mental health services decreased,” he told Fox News Digital.
“The COVID virus itself is also associated with high rates of depression, anxiety and brain fog,” he went on.
“All of these factors could have contributed to higher rates of completed suicide in the post-pandemic era.”
Numerous factors may be driving up the suicide rate, experts say, including depression and scarcity of mental health providers, as reported by the Associated Press.
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Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York, suggested that a main driver of the suicide rate increase has been the growing availability of guns.
Firearms are used in more than half of suicides, the CDC reported, followed by suffocation and poisoning.
The available data suggests that suicides are more common in the U.S. than at any time since the dawn of World War II, per the AP.
In light of this new data, suicide has become the second leading cause of death in people between 25 and 44 years of age, up from No. 4 in 2021, the AP report stated.
Suicide rates are nearly four times higher among males, with 39,255 taking their own lives in 2022 compared to 10,194 females.
Among racial/ethnic groups, the highest rates in 2021 were seen among non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native people and non-Hispanic White people.
People ages 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide.
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“In the data we released today, we showed that some of the largest increases were in middle-aged and older adults, and so this is a population for which we need to keep these risk factors in mind,” Houry told Siegel.
For his part, Aziz described the suicide spike as a “silent public health crisis” that has been playing out over years and decades.
“I say silent because it has not received the attention it deserves,” he said.
“Completed suicide has been overrepresented in older adults for some time, with older white men at highest risk for completing suicide.”
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Among the likely reasons for this risk are untreated and unrecognized depression; increasing disability and loss of function; social isolation and loneliness; and access to lethal means, including firearms, according to Aziz.
In July 2022, the U.S. government launched 9-8-8, the country’s first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline.
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The CDC also plans to expand a suicide program to fund more prevention work in various communities.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.