• Suicide rates in the US have increased in nearly every state from the year 1999 to 2016; additionally, suicide rates have increased by over 30% in at least 25 states.
  • While we aren’t sure why suicide is on the rise (due to lack of research), there are a few significant factors that might play a role: stigma surrounding mental illness, misdiagnosis, and a lack of understanding.
  • First, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many from talking about mental health and from seeking help for their mental health issues.
  • Also, misdiagnosis plays a part, as physicians might misdiagnose their patients or diagnose their patients with one illness and then fail to screen them for others.
  • Finally, many individuals don’t understand that the way they’re feeling may signify a serious mental illness that can lead to suicidal thoughts and/or feelings.
  • There is a dire need for greater research into suicide; exploring known risk factors could help us to better understand why suicide is on the rise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates in the US have increased in nearly every state from the year 1999 to 2016. Additionally, for at least 25 states, suicide rates increased by over 30 percent. Based on other recent data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
  • There are, on average, 129 suicides each day.
  • An estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts in 2017

This leaves many wondering, “why?” “Why is suicide on the rise?”

Here’s What We Know…

Answering this question isn’t so simple. But there are several important factors to consider. Prakash Masand M.D., a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, says that the following factors likely play a role in the rise of suicide:

1. Stigma

First, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many from getting the mental health help they need. “There is and always has been a stigma around mental illness,” Masand explains. “Every time a celebrity commits suicide, there is a lot of attention put on the topic. The momentum seems to wane away eventually and people are once again embarrassed to discuss their mental health struggles,” he explains. “We need to continue to push the fact that the brain is like any other organ in the body. Just as your heart or kidneys may have certain issues, so too can your brain. If the stigma is broken, less people have to suffer in silence and less people will turn to suicide as their escape.”

2. Misdiagnosis

Also, some people who do seek mental health help don’t get the proper diagnosis or care. “The second issue standing in the way of suicide prevention is the misdiagnosis of clinical depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, studies have shown that it can take up to 10 years to get the correct diagnoses,” Masand says. “There are a number of reasons for this. A physician may only screen for depression, but fail to inquire about mania. Comorbidity in bipolar disorder is also very common, so again, a physician might quickly pick up on an anxiety disorder but fail to screen for other illnesses. Whether you are a family doctor or a mental health practitioner, we must do thorough and comprehensive screenings for mental illness.”

3. Lack of understanding

And lastly, we don’t always take our symptoms, feelings, or suicidal thoughts seriously. “Finally, some patients don’t see their symptoms as abnormal and think this is just the way they are supposed to be,” Masand explains. “Digging deeper and asking what friends or family have said about the patient’s behavior might present a more objective look at what’s really going on and therefore decrease suicide risks.”

…But We Still Need to Know More

All of that being said, there is still much to learn about suicide that will help us to better answer the important question, “Why is suicide on the rise?” And the need to invest in suicide research is apparent, as explained by Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kim Shashoua: “Suicide is a topic that still has a lot of stigma attached, which is reflected in how much funding the research has gotten. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, but gets a fraction of the funding. Research involving alcoholism has five times the funding. Breast cancer—not all cancer, just breast cancer—has almost seven times the research funding. Dr. April Foreman, a leading suicidologist, often points out how we fund suicide research at the same rate as smallpox research.”

Shashoua goes on to explain the importance of exploring further what we already know to be true: such as the risk factors for suicide. “What is known about suicide is that certain factors can increase risk,” she explains. “Access to lethal means, for example, can greatly increase risk. When people feel strong urges to end their life, these feelings will often pass. If a person has an accessible, loaded gun, they are able to act on their urge without waiting for it to pass. Other stresses that wear down emotional resilience are risk factors, such as job loss, relationship issues, or chronic pain. When someone has a harder time finding safe harbor and finding a place to feel unburdened, it takes a toll on their ability to bounce back. Some of these issues are tied into social trends that we’ve been seeing nationally, such as it being difficult-to-impossible to have adequate housing, food, and healthcare when living on minimum wage or social security alone.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, get off this site and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Regardless of the time or day, someone will answer your call and get you the help that you need. You can find a list of other helpful resources here.

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