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Suicides in the United States Are Surging — and It's Not Clear Why

The suicide rate has increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014 for all Americans under the age of 75, according to a sweeping report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 22 2016, 6:25pm

Foto di Andrew Gombert/EPA

The number of people killing themselves has been steadily increasing among nearly all sectors of the United States population since 1999, according to a sweeping report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The suicide rate rose from 10.5 people per 100,000 of the population in 1999 to 13 people in 2014 — a 24 percent increase. The spike is a notable shift from the years before 1999, when suicides were on the decline.

Researchers broke down suicide rates in the US by gender, age, and race and revealed some startling disparities. Although more men kill themselves than women (20.7 men compared to 5.8 women killed themselves in 2014 per 100,000 people), the rate at which women are committing suicide has increased much faster. Between 1999 and 2014, the female suicide rate surged 45 percent across all ages, compared to an increase of just 16 percent for men in the same period.

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For women, the rate of suicides tripled between the ages of 10 to 14, the biggest increase of any age group. For men the same age, the rate only rose by 37 percent. Suicide remains the second most common cause of death for adolescents and young adults in both genders.

Women across all ages and races saw a rise in suicides, but one group underwent an especially big jump since 1999. The rate for white women between the ages of 45 and 64 rose by 80 percent, which was three to four times higher than any other racial group.

The rates are also highly varied across racial groups. The biggest increase was among American Indians and Alaska Natives — the rate of male suicides in that group rose by 38 percent and women by 89 percent. The only group that did not see a rise in suicides was black men, for whom the rate actually fell by 8 percent between 1999 and 2014.

The CDC report did not attempt to explain the startling rise in suicides among Americans. The upward trend picked up after 2006, however, suggesting that it might be related to the economic downturn of the mid-2000s, one researcher told CNN. From 2006 to 2014, the annual increase in the suicide rate doubled from 1 percent to 2 percent per year, over the course of a period when the financial crisis left many Americans jobless and homeless.

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Guns remain the most common method men use to kill themselves, according to the report, and a close second for women. In 2014, 55 percent of male suicides were committed with a firearm, which is actually a decrease from 1999 when it was 61.7 percent. The most common method for women was poisoning; in 1999, it was guns.

The vast majority of suicide attempts, often committed impulsively, are unsuccessful. But the likelihood that an impulse decision becomes fatal increases when there are deadly weapons available, and research shows that there is a high correlation between gun ownership and suicide deaths. This could also explain why there are more suicide deaths among men, who are more likely to use a gun, than women.

More than 42,000 Americans killed themselves in 2014, according to the CDC, making suicides the tenth leading cause of death for all ages.