The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans (Figure 1). In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 13.7 minutes.
To measure changes in the prevalence of suicide over time, the CDC calculates the country’s suicide rate each year. The suicide rate expresses the number of suicide deaths that occur for every 100,000 people in the population for which the rate is reported.
Over the 20-year period from 1990 to 2010, suicide rates in the U.S. dropped, and then rose again (Figure 2). Between 1990 and 2000, the suicide rate decreased from 12.5 suicide deaths to 10.4 per 100,000 people in the population. Over the next 10 years, however, the rate generally increased and by 2010 stood at 12.1 deaths per 100,000.
Are Suicide Rates Still Rising?
CDC figures for death by suicide are currently lagging by more than a year. Information is not yet available for 2011 or 2012.
Who is Most at Risk for Death by Suicide?
Suicide death rates vary considerably among different groups of people. The CDC reports suicide rates by four key demographic variables: age, sex, race/ethnicity, and geographic region/state.
Research suggests that many other variables also affect suicide rates, such as socioeconomic status, employment, occupation, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Although individual states collect data on some of these characteristics, they are not included in national reports issued by the CDC.
Suicide Rates by Age
In 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (17.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2010, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.5 (Figure 3).
Suicide Rates by Sex
For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women (Figure 4). In 2010, men had a suicide rate of 19.9, and women had a rate of 5.2. Of those who died by suicide in 2010, 78.9% were male and 21.1% were female.
Suicide Rates by Race/Ethnicity
In 2010, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.1) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.0) was among American Indians and Alaskan Natives (Figure 5). Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (6.2), Blacks (5.1) and Hispanics (5.9).
Note that the CDC records Hispanic origin separately from the primary racial or ethnic groups of White, Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander, since individuals in all of these groups may also be Hispanic.
Suicide Rates by Geographic Region/State
In 2010, suicide rates were highest in the West (13.6), followed by the South (12.6), the Midwest (12.0) and the Northeast (9.3). Six U.S. states, all in the West, had age-adjusted suicide rates in excess of 18: Wyoming (23.2), Alaska (23.1), Montana (22.9), Nevada (20.3), New Mexico (20.1) and Idaho (18.5). Four locales had age-adjusted suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: New York (8.0) and New Jersey (8.2) in the Northeast, and Maryland (8.7) and the District of Columbia (6.8), in the Southeast (Figure 6).
In 2010, firearms were the most common method of death by suicide, accounting for a little more than half (50.6%) of all suicide deaths. The next most common methods were suffocation (including hangings) at 24.8% and poisoning at 17.3% (Figure 7).
Economic Impact of Completed Suicides
The economic cost of suicide death in the U.S. is estimated to be $34 billion annually. With the burden of suicide falling most heavily on adults of working age, the cost to the economy results almost entirely from lost wages and work productivity.
No complete count is kept of suicide attempts in the U.S.; however, the CDC gathers data each year from hospitals on non-fatal injuries resulting from self-harm behavior.
In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, 464,995 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide. Together, those harming themselves made an estimated total of more than 650,000 hospital visits related to injuries sustained in one or more separate incidents of self-harm behavior.
Because of the way these data are collected, we are not able to distinguish intentional suicide attempts from non-intentional self-harm behaviors. But we know that many suicide attempts go unreported or untreated, and surveys suggest that at least one million people in the U.S. each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm.
As with suicide deaths, rates of attempted suicide vary considerably among demographic groups. While males are 4 times more likely than females to die by suicide, females attempt suicide 3 times as often as males. The ratio of suicide attempts to suicide death in youth is estimated to be about 25:1, compared to a about 4:1 in the elderly.
Economic Impact of Suicide Attempts
Non-fatal injuries due to self-harm cost an estimated $3 billion annually for medical care. Another $5 billion is spent for indirect costs, such as lost wages and productivity.