Suicide rates have risen drastically in the US, from 10.5 per 100,000 people in 1999, to 13 per 100,000 in 2014 – an increase of about a quarter and the highest in three decades.
Suicide is one of the ten leading causes of death in the US. Among the young and healthy, those between the ages of 10 and 34, it is the second greatest cause of death. Rates have risen for virtually every demographic group, apart from men and women over 75 and black men.
Sally Curtin, a statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, noted that all was well between the 80s and 90s- suicide levels were falling. Not anymore though.
“It had been decreasing almost steadily since 1986 and then what happened is there was a turnaround.”
“I’ve been losing sleep over this, quite honestly,” she said. “You can’t just say it’s confined to one age group or another for males and females. Truly at all ages people are at risk for this, and our youngest have some of the highest percent increases.”
“The deaths are but the tip of the iceberg,” she said, noting that far more attempt suicide, but are unsuccessful.
According to her research, one worrisome finding is that rates have risen the most, in percentage terms, among girls between the ages of ten and fourteen – tripling in the 15 years from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.7. The group is relatively small though, and accounts for just 1.5% of all suicides by women.
“We don’t know what’s going on, to be quite honest,” says Arielle Sheftall from the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “We have thoughts, that maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. It’s really hard to pinpoint one specific risk factor that really, truly is driving this trend.”
“It’s usually been referred to as the storm-and-stress period of life because there’s just a lot of change happening all at one time,” said Sheftall.
“Research has shown that puberty, unfortunately, is associated with the onset of psychological disorders, specifically depression.”
“It’s frustrating because you want to never ever see these trends increase… That’s what we kind of have dedicated our lives and research to: What is causing these increases to occur?”
Jullie Phillips, a sociology professor at Rutgers, believes that the rising suicide rates could be linked to social trends. Declining marriage rates and increasing divorce rates (which have doubled since the 90s) have led to increasing levels of social isolation. She notes that her research has shown thatunmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely to die than married ones; and unmarried women were 2.8 times as likely to commit suicide.
The “recovering” US economy could also play a part in this devastating trend; Dr Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied the relationship between suicide and economic strife all the way back to the 1920s. He found that suicide was highest whenever the economy was weakest.