From 1999 to 2018, the suicide rate rose from 10.5 to 14 per 100,000, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers found the rate of suicide rose by about 1 percent a year from 1999 to 2006, then increased to 2 percent a year from 2006 through 2018.
The report also shows that men are more likely to die by suicide than women, and people in rural areas are at greater risk than their urban counterparts.
"This report shows that there continues to be differences in suicide rates by sex, age group and urban and rural location," said lead researcher Dr. Holly Hedegaard, an injury epidemiologist at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
"Examination of suicide rates for different demographic groups can help identify those groups at higher risk," Hedegaard said. "This information can help guide prevention efforts."
While the suicide rate rose for both men and women, it soared 55 percent among females compared with a 28 percent climb among males. Still, men are nearly four times more likely to take their own lives, researchers reported. In 2018, the male suicide rate was nearly 23 per 100,000, and for females it was slightly more than 6 per 100,000.
The highest suicide rate among women was among those 45 to 64 years old. Among males, the rate was highest for those 75 and over. The lowest rate in both sexes was for kids 10 to 14.
"No one knows why suicide rates are climbing," said Jonathan Singer, president of the board of directors of the American Association of Suicidology.
Singer thinks some of these suicides are what have been called deaths of despair -- including deaths due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Many of these deaths of despair occur in rural areas where there are fewer economic opportunities, he noted.
Poverty breeds hopelessness, loneliness and depression, all emotions that increase the risk for suicide, Singer said.
The report noted some good news in the last few years of the study period. "After years of increase, the suicide rates for several demographic groups, including females aged 45 and over and males aged 45 to 64, have stabilized," Hedegaard said.
But suicide rates continued to increase for males and females aged 10 to 44, and men 65 and over, she said.
In 2018, men and women in rural areas were more likely to die by suicide than city dwellers, the researchers found. Among males, for example, the rates ranged from 18 in cities to 31 in the most rural counties (per 100,000). For the study, CDC researchers used data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System.
The numbers beg the question, "Why?"
There's no easy answer, said Singer, who is also an associate professor of social work at Loyola University Chicago.
"What we do know is that research on suicide is underfunded, that there are many different pathways people take to become suicidal and to make the decision to die," he said.
Singer is concerned that job losses and isolation related to current COVID-19 stay-at-home orders might result in a spike in suicides.
On the other hand, being in lockdown with family might also be protective, he said. "It's possible that some of those might actually find comfort and support while being quarantined."
Singer said it's important to recognize signs of impending suicide.
"If you see somebody whose mood has changed rapidly, and if they're usually pleasant and fairly optimistic or realistic, and suddenly they become incredibly needy and sad and hopeless, they might be on the path to take their life," he said.
If these changes last for a while and they start saying things like, "I don't think anybody would mind if I were dead," these are pretty clear warning signs, Singer said.
To get help for someone feeling this way, you can contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or reach out to a primary care provider or therapist, he said.
"Suicide remains a national problem and the rates are rising and we don't know why," Singer said. "There's a need for more folks to be trained in addressing suicide risk, particularly in rural areas, and a need for more research."
For more on suicide, see the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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