Depression and Suicide: The U.S. Has a Suicide Problem

Over the last twenty years, suicide rates have been steadily increasing across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1999 suicide rates have increased for males and females, all ethnicities, all age groups, and have gone up in all major urban areas. Here are some important statistics regarding suicide:

  • Suicide has moved up to become the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

  • Whereas many causes of death have gone down (such as deaths caused by heart and lung disease, stroke, and liver damage) due to better health habits and advances in medicine, suicide rates have gone up.

  • Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in individuals between 35 and 54 years old.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults.

  • Many more people contemplate and attempt suicide than die from suicide. In 2016, 9.8 million Americans thought seriously about suicide, while 2.8 million came up with a plan, and 1.3 million of those individuals ended up attempting suicide.

  • Suicide is highly correlated with other mental health issues, such as depression. Many individuals who attempt suicide have been victims of violence, abuse, or bullying.

  • Mental health resources (e.g. suicide hotlines, support groups, therapies) have become more common, but have not been able to successfully combat this rise in suicide.

The CDC notes that, most commonly, suicide rates tend to increase during times of financial strain in the country. However, the current rates of suicide seem to be going up regardless of fluctuations in the economy.

Changes in suicide rates by state, from 1999-2016

In this map , you can see which states have seen the most changes in suicide rates.

Factors Associated with Suicide

An important question to answer is what causes an individual to attempt suicide. There can be any number of reasons, and many times there won’t be one singular reason for why someone has attempted suicide. However, the CDC has attempted to explored the factors associated with suicide. Here is what they have found:

  • 43 percent had difficulties in relationships

  • 29 percent had a crisis of some sort

  • 27 percent had problems with substances (e.g. drugs or alcohol)

  • 23 percent had a health issue (e.g. cancer, injury, terminal illness)

  • 15 percent had job or financial strain

  • 9 percent had a legal or criminal issue

What these statistics from the CDC do not identify is the relationship between suicide and mental health disorders. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found that of those who died from suicide, 60% had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, which demonstrates a substantial relationship between suicide and mental health disorders. What’s important to note, however, is that this statistic is for people who had been previously diagnosed with a disorder. What this means is that it’s very likely that many more people who died from suicide had a mental health disorder, but just had not been diagnosed. This is probably true since it takes a standardized process of meeting with a health care professional in order to receive a diagnosis, and many people either may not have been able to receive these services, or had met with a therapist but kept their diagnosis off their medical record.

Of note, the HHS found a startling connection between depression and suicide. They found that a person who is diagnosed with depression is up to 2 times more likely to commit suicide. That number jumps to 4 times more likely to commit suicide when the person is diagnosed with severe depression.

In short, having depression places someone at a substantial risk for committing suicide, in addition to planning or contemplating suicide.

What To Do

If you or someone you know is suicidal, there are important things you can do. The first thing to remember is that suicide is a very permanent solution to a problem that is usually temporary. In other words, feeling suicidal or severely depressed are not permanent states, and treatments can be very successful in helping individuals who are feeling these things.

The next thing to know is that suicidal thoughts or behaviors are important, and should not be minimized. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, it is important to take these feelings seriously and get the appropriate help as quickly as possible. People commonly mistake suicidal gestures as attempts for “attention,” when the opposite is actually true. If a person is feeling or talking about suicide, they have gotten to a dark place, and are experiencing real pain, and need understanding and support, not a dismissal of their feelings.

Many people who experience depression and/or suicidal thoughts worry that they will be judged for how they think and feel. Although it’s hard to remember, it’s important to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of when someone has these feelings. Additionally, mental health professionals not only want to help individuals who are feeling this way, but are also well-trained to listen, and help people feel better.

There are resources out there for people who are suicidal. If someone is in immediate danger of suicide, or who is feeling intensely depressed, they should contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which can be reached 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255). They can also call 911 or go to an emergency room where treatment is available at all times. If these are not options, then it is important for an individual to at least reach out to a friend, family member, or loved one, and share how they are feeling.

If someone is not in immediate danger, then it is important to know that there are many treatment options that can help people feel better from depression and suicidal thoughts and feelings. Psychotherapy has been proven to be very effective as a treatment for depression and suicide. Medication (e.g. anti-depressants, mood stabilizers) can also be helpful, though they can take time to work and need to be closely monitored by a physician. Therapy and medication are the best “fist line” treatment options. But lifestyle changes can be a helpful “second line” of treatment. Changing your diet, behavior and relationship patterns, and getting more exercise can be very helpful in helping people feel better.

To sum up: suicide is a real problem that affects far too many people in this country, with more and more people being affected each year. But suicide is very treatable and any individual who is feeling suicidal has many resources and avenues for feeling better. The take away message is that, if you are suffering from suicidal thoughts or severe depression, you do not have to suffer alone, and there are many people who want to help you.