How Suicide Risk is Changing and What We Can Do to Prevent It

In Updates by Beth

In the United States, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages and the second leading cause of death for ages 10-44 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30% since 1999. Additionally, rates of ER visits for nonfatal self-harm, a main risk factor for suicide, increased 42% from 2001 to 2016. 

  • Between 2013 and 2017, 220,306 people committed suicide (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control & CDC, 2019). 
  • In 2017, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.
  • Every day, 16 people die from suicide. 


Source: Vital Signs: Trends in Suicide Rates and Circumstances Contributing to Suicide — United States, 1999–2016 and 27 States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67(22):617-624.

Gender Gap Narrowing

Although suicide rates have been historically greater for males, in recent years the rate of suicide for female individuals has dramatically increased.  For instance, suicide rates have more than doubled from 2007 to 2015 among female individuals aged 15 to 19, compared with a 31% increase for male individuals.

Mental Health Conditions

While there are many complex factors contributing to suicide risk, we now know that mental health conditions are one important risk factor that should never be ignored. Nearly half (46%) of all suicide victims in 2015 suffered from a mental health condition, and 75% of those individuals had been diagnosed with depression. Other mental conditions such schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and substance abuse problems, also increase risk for suicide, particularly when left untreated. 

  • Mental illness is more common that you may think. Recent research has found that 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness each year.
  • Individuals with serious mental illness have more than a 20-times higher risk of suicide compared to the general population. 

Depression, Gender and Suicide

In the past decade or so the rates of depression have become increasingly common, particularly among teenagers. Between 2007-2017 the total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59%. 

  • Teenage girls appear to be especially vulnerable to depression and they are three times as likely as teen boys to have had recent experiences with depression.
  • 1 in 5 girls experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017.


Social media, a new stressor

The rise of electronic communication and social media has been linked to an increase in mood disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, affecting younger people the most. New research has found that individuals who use social media frequently, particularly female adolescents are more likely to be victims of cyber-bullying, which has been linked to depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts (Cooper et al., 2019). 


What can we do to prevent suicide?

Know the warning signs of suicide

More than ever, we all need to learn to recognize when someone we care about is at risk of suicide and know which resources we can access. Quick and effective action is key in suicide prevention.  

To determine if someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you’ll need pay attention to how they’re talking, behaving and feeling. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Notice if the person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Saying goodbye or going away forever
  • Death. The person sounds overly preoccupied with death. 
  • Saying things such as “Nothing matters anymore,” “You’ll be better off without me,” or “Life isn’t worth living”.

Pay attention to these behaviors:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking up suicide methods online
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Tying loose ends (paying off debts, making or changing a will, organizing personal documents)
  • Becoming aggressive
  • Getting a weapon
  • Stockpiling pills

Notice changes in mood and personality including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Irritability
  • Shame, feeling humiliated
  • Agitation or anger
  • Suddenly appears relieved or cheerful after a period of depression
  • Seeming fatigued

Risk factors you should be aware of:

  • History of suicide attempts or self-harming behaviors
  • Recent failed romantic relationship
  • Victim of bullying or any other type of violence
  • Mental health conditions, including post-partum depression
  • Access to lethal means (firearms, weapons, etc.)
  • Recent stressful events (i.e. failed grades, breakups, divorce, unemployment, financial crisis)
  • Local suicide epidemic
  • Serious health issue

Know how and where to seek help

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide, take the person seriously and seek immediate help. Do not wait to see if things resolve on their own. If the risk of suicide is immediate, do not hesitate to call 911.


Suicide Prevention Resources

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( 1-800-273-8255 is an excellent resource to get immediate guidance and you will get connected to the nearest crisis center. Calls are answered by trained crisis workers who listen without judgment and are free and confidential.  The crisis worker will work with you to ensure that you or your loved one feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area.
  • You can also text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
  • An online chat is also available:
  • The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)also has great crisis resources. You can text NAMI to 741-741
  • If they already have a mental health provider, you may also contact them and ask for guidance.
  • You can also escort the person to local mental health services or an emergency room.