Rates increased among almost all groups, a federal data analysis found, with women and middle-aged Americans hit particularly hard.
WASHINGTON — Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest level in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.
The suicide rate for women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that released the study Friday.
The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.
“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal finances.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- ‘I’m done saying I’m sorry,’ Alex Jones tells Sandy Hook families in court
- 10 tips for coexisting with COVID (and living a normal-ish life)
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Daylight saving ends soon. Wait, didn't lawmakers vote to end this?
- Career prosecutors recommend no charges for Gaetz in sex-trafficking probe
In Washington state, the rise in suicides was more modest, increasing 7 percent between 1999 and 2014, according to CDC figures. In 1999, the rate was 14.2 cases per 100,000 people, with 819 suicides reported that year. By 2014, it had jumped to 15.2 cases per 100,000, with 1,119 suicides reported.
Federal researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.
American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups, with rates rising by 89 percent for women and 38 percent for men. White middle-aged women had an increase of 80 percent.
The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. It declined for only one age group: men and women older than 75.
The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans. Recent research has highlighted the plight of less-educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high-school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research.
“This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health,” said Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of “Our Kids,” an investigation of new class divisions in America.
The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013, noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since 2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.
Policymakers say efforts to prevent suicide across the country are spotty. While some hospitals and health systems screen for suicidal thinking and operate good treatment programs, many do not. “We have more and more effective treatments, but we have to figure out how to bake them into health-care systems so they are used more automatically,” said Dr. Jane Pearson, chairwoman of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Suicide Research Consortium, which oversees the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for suicide-prevention research.
She noted that while NIH funding for suicide-prevention projects had been relatively flat — rising to $25 million in 2016 from $22 million in 2012 — it was a fraction of funding for research into mental illnesses, including mood disorders.
The new analysis noted that suicide methods were changing. About one in four suicides in 2014 involved suffocation, which includes hanging and strangulation, compared with fewer than one in five in 1999.