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How common is suicide?

The topic and reality of suicide often tends to be avoided or sensationalized, neither of which help us to understand how common it is in the lives of our families and communities. Having a better understanding of how often suicide occurs is a step in improving suicide prevention efforts and offering better support to those impacted by suicide. Below are some facts based on current (2009) statistics from the American Association of Suicidology,, to help us understand how common suicide is.

Suicide in the USA

  • In 2009 (the latest year for which we have national statistics), there were 36,909 suicides in the U.S. (100.8 suicides per day; 1 suicide every 14.3 minutes). This translates to an annual suicide rate of 12.0 per 100,000.
  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.
  • A rate increase was seen in 2009, representing a change in recent pattern of stability or slight decline. Since 1990, rates have ranged between 12.4 and 10.7 per 100,000.
  • The U.S. suicide rate (12.0 per 100,000) is over twice that of the U.S. homicide rate (5.5 per 100,000).
  • Rates of suicide are highest in the intermountain states. Six of the top 10 states suicide rates are from those states.
  • Males complete suicide at a rate 3.7 times that of females. However, females attempt suicide three times more often than males.
  • The 45-54 years age group has the highest rate of suicide among all age groups (rate of 19.3 per 100,000).
  • Elderly adults have rates of suicide close to 50% higher than that of the nation as a whole (all ages).
  • Youth (ages 15-24) suicide rates increased more than 200% from the 1950's to the late 1970's. From the late 1970's to the mid 1990's, suicide rates for youth remained stable, since then, have slightly decreased.
  • Suicide ranks third as a cause of death among young (15-24) Americans behind accidents and homicides.
  • Firearms remain the most commonly utilized method of completing suicide by essentially all groups. More than half (50.8%) of the individuals who took their own lives in 2009 used this method. Males used it more often than their female counterparts.
  • The most common method of suicide for all females was poisoning. In fact, poisoning has surpassed firearm for female suicides since 2001.
  • Caucasians (13.5 per 100,000) have higher rates of completed suicides than African Americans (5.1 per 100,000).
  • Suicide rates are the highest among the divorced, separated, and widowed and lowest among the married.

Research Findings

  • Although there are no official national statistics on attempted suicide (e.g., non-fatal actions) it is generally estimated that there are 25 attempts for each death by suicide.
  • Risk of attempted (non-fatal) suicide is greatest among females and the young.
  • Ratios of attempted to completed suicides for youth are estimated to range between 100-200 to 1.
  • Mental health diagnoses are generally associated with a higher rate of suicide. Psychological autopsy studies reflect that more than 90% of completed suicides had one or more mental disorders.
  • Those with the following diagnoses are at particular risk: depression, schizophrenia, drug and/or chemical dependency and conduct disorders (in adolescence).
  • There is a relationship between depression and suicide; the risk of suicide is increased by more than 50 percent in depressed individuals. Aggregated research findings suggest that about 60 percent of suicides were depressed.
  • There is a relationship between alcoholism and suicide; the risk of suicide in alcoholics is 50 to 70 percent higher than the general population.
  • Feelings of hopelessness (e.g., there is no solution to my problem) are found to be more predictive of suicide risk than a diagnosis of depression per se.
  • Socially isolated individuals are generally found to be at a higher risk for suicide.
  • The vast majority of individuals who are suicidal often display cues and warning signs.

Worldwide (from the World Health Organization)

  • Each year approximately one million people in the world die by suicide.
  • More people die by suicide than the total number of world deaths each year from war and homicide combined.

If we treated suicide more as a public health concern rather than solely as an individual failing or family tragedy, it is likely that more suicides could be prevented.

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