Nov. 3, 2021 -- After 2 decades of rising suicide rates in the U.S., the number of deaths by suicide declined in 2020 for the second year in a row, according to preliminary data published Wednesday by the CDC.

Although the suicide rate dropped overall, there were increases among young adults, as well as American Indians, Alaska Natives, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

“I think it’s pretty much general knowledge now that COVID affected different demographic groups differently, and some were hit harder than others,” Sally Curtin, lead author of the report and a member of the center’s Division of Vital Statistics, told CNN.

The research team based the report on 99% of all 2020 death records received by the center as of May 2021. The preliminary number of suicides in 2020 -- 45,855 -- was 3% lower than in 2019, when there were 47,511 suicide deaths. The suicide rate -- 13.5 per 100,000 people -- was also 3% lower than in 2019.

Overall, suicide rates among women declined by 8% between 2019 and 2020. Among men, suicide rates dropped 2%.

Among younger Americans, suicide rates increased slightly in all groups between ages 10 and 34, though the only statistically significant increase was a 5% jump among 25- to 34-year-olds.

A decline in suicide deaths among white men and women contributed to the drop in overall suicide rates during the past 2 years. The rates for white Americans declined by 5%, which was the largest of any group, followed by a 4% drop for Asian Americans. White women had a 10% decrease, while white men had a 3% decrease.

Suicide rates were the highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives, which increased by 5% in 2020, followed by white Americans. Black Americans and Hispanic Americans had similar rates of suicide, though Black and Hispanic females had the lowest rates of suicide among any group.

Meanwhile, suicide rates increased for both Black and Hispanic females in 2020. Deaths among Black girls and women between ages 10 and 24 increased more than 30%, from 1.6 to 2.1 per 100,000 people. Black boys and men of the same age had a 23% increase, from 3 to 3.7 per 100,000.

Among Hispanic girls and women in the same age group, the rate increased by 40%, and Hispanic boys and men had a 20% increase. Asian girls and women ages 15-24 also had a nearly 30% increase.

Suicide rates in the U.S. had increased 35% between 1999 and 2018 before a slight dip of 2% in 2019. This is the first time the CDC has put together a report based on preliminary data.

“One potential explanation for these decreases is that they reflect a ‘pulling together phenomenon,’ which can occur during times of national crises, where social cohesion increases and communities are drawn together,” Brandon Nichter, PhD, a psychiatry scholar at the University of California, San Diego, told UPI.

But suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is likely to remain high, UPI reported.

On Tuesday, White House officials unveiled a plan to prevent suicides among veterans and military personnel, according to MilitaryTimes.com. Suicide rates among active duty service members increased by 41% between 2015 and 2020, the Department of Defense reported last month.

The new Biden administration plan promotes safe firearms storage, outlines best practices for firearms dealers, and aims to enhance crisis care access. The plan also includes a focus on lethal means safety, which is a voluntary practice to reduce individual suicide risk by limiting access to objects that can be used to cause self-harm, including medications, firearms, and sharp items.

As part of this strategy, the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Veterans Affairs, and others will create a plan to address lethal means safety education and training among medical providers, service members, veterans, and their families.

The campaign will also focus on things that may lead to a suicidal crisis, such as financial strain and unemployment. The departments will put more of a focus on economic well-being, reducing housing and food insecurity, and supporting service members as they move to civilian life.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

CDC: “Vital Statistics Rapid Release: Provisional Numbers and Rates of Suicide by Month and Demographic Characteristics: United States, 2020.”

CNN: “Overall, suicide rates decreased in the US last year -- but not for everyone.”

UPI: “CDC: Pandemic year 2020 saw declines in suicides in the United States.”

MilitaryTimes.com: “New White House suicide prevention plan for troops, vets emphasizes gun safety.”

White House: “Fact Sheet: New Strategy Outlines Five Priorities for Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide.”

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