Suicides in the United States decreased by 3% from 2019 to 2020, despite risk factors for suicide generally increasing, according to data published Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics – part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suicides among men declined 2%, and suicides among women fell 8%, with the largest drop occurring in non-Hispanic White women. Suicides in this group fell 10% from 2019 to 2020.
However, not every population saw a decline.
What the data reveals
While suicide rates decreased among women of all racial and ethnic groups, only the 10% decline for non-Hispanic White women was statistically significant. However, suicide rates increased for non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native, and Hispanic men.
Suicides for Hispanic men increased by a statistically significant 5%, and rates in men ages 25-35 also saw a significant increase of 5% from 2019 to 2020.
“Suicide is a complex, multifaceted public health issue with societal, environmental, interpersonal, biological, and psychological components,” researchers affiliated with the CDC’s Division of Vital Statistics and Division of Analysis and Epidemiology, wrote.
“The Covid-19 pandemic increased many of the risk factors associated with suicidal behavior (adverse mental health conditions, substance misuse, and job or financial stress), with young adults and black and Hispanic persons affected more than other demographic groups.”
The disparate impact of pandemic stressors might be part of why the decline in suicides was not seen across all demographic groups.
“What you see when you look at the different groups is that there are some differences, like the overall number and rate are being driven by what’s happening with the majority group – non-Hispanic White, both males and females,” Sally Curtin, a member of the NCHS’s Division of Vital Statistics and the lead author on the report, told CNN.
“I think it’s pretty much general knowledge now that Covid affected different demographic groups differently and some were hit harder than others,” she said.
There’s still more work to do
While the decline observed in this report follows a 2% decline in suicide rates from 2018 to 2019, Curtin said there is still a need to “remain vigilant” about suicide.
“In terms of 2021, of course we need to remain vigilant. I mean, this doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, wow,’ you know, ‘We’ve arrived,’ or, ‘This has been figured out,’ because historically, the number is still quite high. It was just under 46,000 suicide deaths in 2020.”
It’s lower than 2017, 2018, 2019, but then it’s higher than any number before that. So even though it’s been down the last couple of years, it is, like I said, it’s still high historically,” she said.
“As this report shows, some groups continue to go up, and mostly groups that had increases, were just continuations of upward trajectories.”
The data presented in the report are provisional, meaning they are not the final suicide rates for 2020. Deaths by suicide can take months to accurately tally because it can take some investigation to determine how to categorize a death.
The study authors said, in particular, provisional data on suicide in women can lag behind that on men because poisonings take longer to investigate but comprise a larger portion of women’s suicides than men’s. Still, the authors said they expect the provisional 2020 findings to “be consistent with final 2020 data.”
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Curtin said that when understanding the observed decrease, it’s important to remember that risk factors don’t always match up with increased suicide rates.
“We do know that there were more ER visits for young females with, you know, self-harm. So, there were things pointing to perhaps the deaths would increase,” she said.
“It’s not just a matter of, you know, automatically, ‘OK, risk factors went up. Therefore, we can expect this to go up.’ It’s not that simple with suicide.”