Suicide Statistics

Now that we have defined suicidal behavior, we can discuss its prevalence. Suicide prevalence has to do with the number of people who commit suicide in a given time period, such as within a year. We know that throughout recent history, suicide has been one of the leading causes of death in the USA. However, the accuracy of our statistics is not clear since there are methodological (data collection) problems with existing studies that complicate how accurately suicide attempts and completions are measured.

Attempted suicides resulting in emergency room visits are typically "counted" in studies, but researchers really don't know how many other people attempt suicide and do not end up at the hospital. Some scientists have simply asked groups of people whether or not they have ever attempted suicide and extrapolated from those percentages, but it is unclear whether respondents are entirely honest in answering this sort of question. As a result, there are no entirely reliable national statistics for the numbers of suicide attempts. Estimates suggest that approximately 800,000 Americans attempt suicide per year. This number most probably underestimates the true magnitude of the issue, but there is no way to tell for sure.

We have a clearer picture of the number of completed suicides, although some accidents may still be mistakenly considered suicides and vice versa. According to official statistics, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the US in 2001. Even though we typically think of suicide as a teenage problem, other age groups also commit suicide. Older Caucasian males (85 years or older) committed suicide at the highest rate of any age group.

Demographic Contributions To Suicide Risk

Some factors that can help predict whether someone is at risk of committing suicide have to do with their demographics or how they fit into the various segments of the population. Certain groups of people tend to be more at risk for completing suicide than others. For instance, as we just noted, older Caucasian males are at a greater risk for completing suicide than other groups.

While it is certainly useful to know this demographic information, it is important to keep in mind that the predictive power that this knowledge confers is rather weak. Even within high risk groups, actual suicide is a low frequency event. Many more people will show signs of possible suicidality (such as suicidal ideation) than will ever actually commit suicide. Predicting who will commit suicide on the basis of demographics alone is impossible. Combining knowledge of those demographic risks and other life circumstances/triggering factors that cause someone to commit suicide can provide greater (but still quite imprecise) insight into the true risks.

Here are some of the demographic (social group membership) characteristics that have been associated with recent suicides in the United States:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults from age 15-24. Between 1970 and 1990, suicide rates for adolescents (ages 15 through 19) nearly doubled. Since 1990, the overall suicide rate for this age group has stabilized at approximately 11 deaths per 100,000. Younger people are more likely to attempt and less likely to complete a suicide than older people.
  • Increased alcohol and substance use, the increased availability of firearms, and the fact that many mental disorders (such as depression and schizophrenia) begin or worsen during these ages all contribute to these statistics. Suicide victims under the age of 30 are also more likely to have dual diagnoses (a combination of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder), impulsive and/or aggressive behavior disorders, and legal problems than people over 30 who commit suicide. However, the challenges of adolescence alone are enough for some teens to commit or attempt suicide.
  • As mentioned previously, older Caucasian males commit suicide at the highest rate of any population group. Older men are more likely to use lethal methods (e.g., firearms) than older women and people of other ages. Older individuals in general make fewer suicide attempts per completed suicide than other age groups, and have often spent a fair amount of time planning their suicide. However, although many older adults who kill themselves give indirect warnings (saying things like "there is nothing left for me anymore", or tying up lose ends with wills, etc.), they are less likely to directly communicate their intent to die. Widowhood, serious medical illness, and social isolation are particularly common risk factors for this demographic group.
  • Whites and Native Americans (especially adolescents) have the highest suicide rates than any other ethnic group in the US. In addition, the rate of suicide among young African American males has been steadily increasing.
  • Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. Researchers suggest that men suffering from depression are more likely to go unrecognized and untreated than women suffering from depression, in part because men may avoid seeking help (viewing it as a weakness). Men who are depressed are also more likely to have co-occurring alcohol and substance use disorders than women.
  • Men are more likely than women to use highly lethal methods to commit suicide. Men are more likely than women to use a gun, carbon monoxide, to hang themselves, or to jump from a height to commit suicide. In addition, men who are intoxicated and suicidal are more likely to use a gun than females who are intoxicated and suicidal.
  • Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide. In terms of method, women tend to overdose or to cut their wrists.
  • Marital status is associated with suicide risk. Living alone and being single both increase the risk of suicide. Marriage is associated with lower overall suicide rates; and divorced, separated and widowed people are more likely to commit suicide. Gender seems to affect this relationship; divorced and widowed men are more likely than divorced and widowed women to commit suicide.
  • Being a parent, particularly for mothers, appears to decrease the risk of suicide. Even pregnant women have a lower risk of suicide than women of childbearing age who are not pregnant.
  • The Rocky Mountain and Western states have the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. Interestingly, this statistic isn't weather-related (it's a myth that cold, rainy, snowy and/or cloudy weather results in a higher rate of suicide; most suicides occur in the springtime), but is related to the concentration of people in these states. Even though there are certainly large cities in these states, overall, the population is more "spread out" than in other parts of the country. See the next bullet point.
  • Suicide rates are higher in rural areas. People in rural ares are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm. Because people who use a firearm are more likely to die (than others who choose a less lethal method), more people in rural areas die from suicide.
  • Industrialized countries generally have higher rates of suicide than non-industrialized countries. Among industrialized countries, the U.S. has a moderate rate of suicide.
  • There may be some suicide rate differences between groups of people employed in certain careers or occupations, but there isn't enough evidence to know for sure. Dentists, psychiatrists, police officers, and other groups have all claimed to have the highest rates of suicide, but since no nationwide data has been collected and many of the studies that have been conducted are substantially flawed, no one really knows whether this is true.
  • Religiosity seems to have a protective effect against suicide. Exactly which religion(s), during what ages/developmental periods, and among which ethnicities remain unanswered questions. Many of the studies of the relationship between religion and suicide have been too small, contradictory, or flawed to make overall conclusions. However, research suggests that in the United States, areas with higher percentages of individuals without religious affiliation have correspondingly higher suicide rates. Involvement with a religion may provide a social support system, a direct way to cope with stressors, a sense of purpose and/or hope, and may lead to a stronger belief that suicide is wrong. Religiosity also seems to be related to other demographic factors; religious North Americans are much less likely than nonreligious people to abuse drugs/alcohol and to divorce (which are both associated with increased suicide risk).
  • Economic status has not been found to be a predictor in the simple way that social scientists once thought. Early suicide researchers theorized that poverty was a significant risk factor for suicide. The theory was that being poor could make one feel depressed, desperate or ashamed at times. This isn't entirely wrong, but research has shown that both the lowest-low and the highest-high incomes are more strongly associated with rates of suicide than other income levels. In other words, it's the extremes of either poverty or wealth that are associated with higher suicide rates.
  • Unemployment is associated with increased rates of suicide. Obviously, people who are unemployed often experience financial stress. In addition, alcohol consumption and marital discord can increase with financial difficulties, which can also increase someone's risk of suicide.
Comments
  • David Spaulding

    I have a problem with your term "completed suicides", mainly the completed part. First of all, I don't believe in suicide. What I mean by that is i don't believe people who commit suicide go to Heaven. That's just my belief. Regardless, using the word COMPLETED, makes suicide sound like a goal! I don't think we should promote suicide. It may be the technical term, but in this day and time we have the ability to change those sort of things. You might not agree with me, but all I ask is that you all REALLY think about it. The term "completed suicide" should be changed.

  • Anonymous-1

    About the former comment on heaven and suicide: It's true, according to the Bible, murderers (of yourself or others) don't go to heaven. Neither do liars, thieves, adulterers, homosexual offenders, or people who want something others have (coveting). And the list goes on... God says the penalty for sin (breaking His laws) is death and hell. If any of us has ever lied, hated someone (that's murder according to the words of Jesus Christ), lusted after someone (that's adultery according to Jesus), or broken any other commandment of God's then we will be going to Hell after we die. God is a righteous and just Judge and connot overlook the breaking of His laws. However, God sent his son Jesus to die in our place so that we could live and go to heaven. All we have to do is believe that Jesus is sent from God to take our sins and then repent from our sin and live for God. Congratulations you're a Christian! Start with reading the Bible and doing what it says.

    As far as suicide and going to Heaven are concerned, God is a forgiving God as long as you have believed on the one He has sent to redeem you. If you die before believing this ( by suicide or other cause) you will go to Hell. If a person that commits suicide is a believer then I believe God will have mercy on that person even though he or she died as a result of a sin.

  • charlotte

    saying completing suicide is not promoting suicide it is addressing a problem that must be addressed. and not believing in suicide? that actually means for you it doesnt exist not that you dont believe people who commit suicide go to heaven. and this god you speak of says he forgives everyone meaning that when someone commits suicide and gets to the pearly gates they will enter heaven for god has forgiven them in your religious world. and many times suicide is not a choice it is, for many people, the thought that there is nothing else left and that dyeing is the only solution. cant stand when people speak of suicide and are ignorant about it but yet feel they can judge when they have never been in the shoes of someone who is so low. i have been there, down and out, one night i found myself in a hospital bed lines poking out of my body and nearly dead, i had overdosed and if it wasnt for my friend who had called the cops i would have died, at the time that is what i wanted, and for a while i was pissed that i did not succeed. not only did i have to deal with my depression and mood disorder but with the stigma that came along with the fact that i attempted suicide. i was made fun of and talked about, so before you speak try to remember if you actually know anything about the topic

  • Anonymous-2

    I think this person made a good point about living in rural areas. If you live in rural areas, it can be harder to socialize with others. This doesn't mean automatic suicide or anything, it just makes life not as fun, especially for the younger people.

  • Anonymous-3

    I am not disputing the idea that suicides occur more frequently in rural areas. I myself live in a very rural setting. However, access to your social networks can often be more difficult because of geographic isolation. However, I think that people living in rural communities often tend to show caring to their neighbors in tangible ways, and this often helps the person living in a rural area to feel less isolated. So this is a counterbalance to the geographical isolation. Another factor is the limited availability of crisis mental health services. Such services are often more available in urban settings. Rural areas are notoriously under served. People in rural areas, particularly people who have a strong ethic of being self-reliant and independent, may be easily deterred from seeking help due to the limited availability of services.

  • D.

    It is interesting to note, just because one does not believe in sucide does not stop other people from performing sucide. What if a group of people bully and harrass a person to that persons death by sucide. What if each and every attempt of the sucidal person to right a wrong done to them is met with abject indifference, in fact the bullying and harrassing is encouraged and overlooked by a community? Were talking the destruction of a family, attempted destruction of that persons career, that persons ecomonic welfare now and in the future, and the attempted destruction of that persons mental and physical heath. so that another may live on the spoils of that destruction? What if that persons new pets are each one tortured to death? What if that person is on limited income and cannot pay bills that the other owes to her? Cannot readily move due to the economic status of the country? What happens when all human dignity, decency and trust is taken from that person? What of the idea of sucide now? Would in not now be reclassified as a murder? But this is just what this article is attempting to help with. It is a guide for the sucidal person to read to gain understanding, time and help to find hope to go on and complete their ends lifes goal which is hopefully not a sucidal one- it is not to provide a holier then thou attitude that a sucide person will go to hell. It is not for you to dictate your beliefs to us on behalf of GOD. We can all read and discuss the bible. The last thing sucidal people need is one more lecturer on the shall nots. They have already given up many things. They need hope and a reason to go on living. Please, do NOT become a crisis counseler. You would be a very poor one.

  • Anonymous-4

    all you people tlaking bout God if there was a god then why are so many people suffering and wanting to do this

  • Anonymous-5

    What kind of evil, narcissistic, and selfish God do you people worship. Sending someone who committed suicide to hell?? Why because they refused to suffer so some so called higher power can sit back and watch and do absolutely nothing to stop it? If there is a God he clearly has no empathy or compassion for the human race, the conditions we live in are atrocious and sick. Only a psychopath would deliberately create a world like this one and then expect people to kiss his ass.

  • Concerned

    I am a bible read. And I don't believe is bad in every case. Like if one give up his life to save another. But there are so many more options than killing yourself.

  • Anonymous-6

    If you have never experienced the kind of psychological pain that leads to suicidal thoughts, then you will always struggle to understand "why" people choose to take that route. Individuals wanting to commit suicide probably do not care about other alternatives ... they probably are just focused on ending the pain and suicide, to them, seems to be the quickest solution.

    As far as God goes, if God does exist then I would suspect that He would allow us the freedom to choose.

    Do we really believe that God would just take over our decision making when we are considering doing something cruel to another person? If we are going to be fairly "judged" at a later time, then wouldn't that require us to have the freedom to make our own choices? How can you be judged if you are not fully accountable for the things you have done in your life. And if the judgement is fair, I believe that God will take ALL things into consideration ... not external behavior only. If God always interfered ... then you could say, "well God made me do it or God took over." We don't learn much when someone is always holding our hand.

    I know there is a lot of suffering in this world, but that is the sole outcome of poor choices (either by ourselves or by others who have authority over us) that have lead to extreme consequences. Blaming God doesn't do anything for anybody ... the ones who benefit the most from believing in God are the ones who turn to Him when they are suffering ... not those who complain that He doesn't do enough.

    But then again, who am I to say how God is? I am just another one of those imperfect, error-prone humans trying to make sense of the world.

  • to-t0

    This is for you, the person who wrote sadistic God. I dont think that you have the right to be mad at God, because God makes the rules. You are not suppose to blaspheem God.

  • Anonymous-7

    god is a f**king psychopath, god loves and man kills god kills and man loves, f**k you jesus i never asked you to die for my sins all piss and piety

  • bhavya bhardwaj

    the whole article is wonderful but there is a lack of statistics involve in it.

  • Bringer of Rain

    you people should be ashamed. bringing God into a suicide discussion. like right now, im desperately searching for something to keep me from finishing this bottle of champange after the handful of xanaxes like 30 minutes ago but instead i find this. regardless, all of you people, both good and evil alike, better pray that this does me in, because i can now understand how deep my self hatred goes and exactly where it stems from, and if i wake all will be punished without distinction.

  • Anonymous-8

    I think it is sad that some of you write as if everyone believes in a god. In fact, real statistics show that atheism is linked to a lower divorce rate than religious people, and a lower suicide rate. Heaven, hell, god, Santa Clause, and ghosts do not have a place in sociological research.

  • PB

    All this talk of God has whet my appetite to comment. It makes quite a bit of sense that many religious areas have lower suicide rates. Having a firm religious belief (right or wrong) can contribute to feeling mentally settled, and give a person a sense of belonging both in their community and in the universe. Couple this with the fact that many religions teach us to love ourselves, and this statistical result should be unsurprising. It's also interesting to note that those with ANY conception of a divine being have a higher survival rate from terminal illnesses.

  • Hae

    You all seem to be assuming that religious affiliation means belief in the Judeo-Christian God. On the contrary, there are many religious beliefs (Buddhism, for example) that do not hold to the same beliefs of "god" as the Judeo-Christian God.

    It is about religious affiliation, not the Judeo-Christian God. The article has, in no way, made a claim in favor of the Judeo-Christian God. It is merely pointing out that people with religious beliefs tend to commit suicide LESS than those who don't. So stop getting your knickers in a bunch over suicide, hell, and God supposedly being a sadistic jerk. This doesn't even come up in the article!

  • Anonymous-9

    I agree with the comment from Sadistic God June 21st- This world is a F*#ked up place. What kind of "creater" would allow all this sh1t to go on? This is a One Dog One Bone, Hurray for me and f*#k you world. I dont plan on hanging around for much longer.

  • Anonymous-10

    suicide becomes a viable option, when you have tried all else to move forward, and not succeeded. When there is nothing to look forward to, when just waking up becomes unbearable. When you are a burden to those you love, or society. When you see no purpose in today or tomorrow. when the wrongs can't be righted, and the weight becomes impossible to carry. When you have smacked every wall, only to find it immovable. What then is left? When you can't concentrate,can't focus, can't sleep, can't function properly. when even the anger is gone, the tears gone. when even the pain starts to fade to nothing. what is left to make you want to face another day? When you find that even pretending to be a human being becomes unpalatable. when you feel that you are unworthy to even face the ones you love. then only the fear of the consequences of failure stops you. will that too fade? or will you just make sure to succeed?

  • James

    I've seen statistics from atheist being less oft to get a divorce. So can you please site sources please. And if you have a phd, why wouldn't you site sources and just say all of this without any statistics. For all I can see, this could be opinionated.. I give this article a 6/10

  • Sarah

    I'm an unsuccessful suicide. It was an impulse, not planned at all. In the hospital, where all they did was pump me full of meds and push me out the door, I wondered if I had succeeded and this is hell. I'm sure I'm still alive now, but I also don't doubt that this is hell. Most days I dissociate from my feelings, and make it through the day, but other days it catches up to me, and I have to look for excuses to live. Society has an unquestioned assumption that suicide is bad, and I suppose I've bought into it. But what about people who live in hell every day? Shouldn't we celebrate if their suicide frees them from it?

  • Matt

    Sarah, from someone who has been there, your paragraph touched me. I wanted to give you a hug, i hope an e-hug can do.

    Ive battled depression since my very early teens, not diagnosed till i was 22 (now 30). Two years ago i tried to end the pain, it was 2 weeks after my little sister lost her battle with post natal depression and drove off a cliff. I took on a power pole at over 100klm luckily for me, my family and all my friends the pole died and not me. I was hospitalised (mental not physical) for 6 weeks, i got great help, for now my meds are working ok for me and i am stable. No, with all the help and love i have been given, for most of the time i am more than stable i am happy.

    The meds are still no silver bullet though, i still take way too much on board, i feel way too much for others and there are times i get knocked down and it's so hard to get back up. Sometimes ive been down and thought i'm so tired i cant do it anymore. As hard as it is because the curse drains the very part of you that makes you fight and believe, all i have found that works for me is keep thinking just like a cancer patient has to fight "this stupid illness is not going to beat me" so far, ive kept managing to get back up.

    Sarah it's a horible lonely place, but please keep thinking there are always people who care, even internet strangers that just read a few sentences about you.

    I'd love it if you would like to contact me, knights97 at gmail dot com obviously replace the 'at' and the 'com', so hopfully i dont get spam.

    All the best Sarah.

  • Anonymous-11

    I lost my older brother to suicide on april 17th 2010 & the pain is unbeariable,it is nearly two years down the road & I can not move on I can not get it out of my head the torture he was going through that morning when he took his own life.

    I can not work I just can not move on, he is with me all the time.

    I dream every night he is alive & with me.

    I will not admit he is dead.

    I have lost my faith completely as I can not see how God would allow someone who loved his family & everyone around him to do something like this.

    He never had a bad word to say about anyone,he was the beautiful person.I wish I was with him & had the courage to do what he done as the npain could not be worse than this

  • Anonymous-12

    I am so sorry. Your story with your brother really inspired me. Anyone I see who is sitting alone, I try to befriend them and make them feel less lonely.

  • IN GOD WE TRUST

    The pain of losing a close relative is never easy, take it from someone who loss both of their parents. The only sanity I had was my faith in God because I knew he was able to get me through my storm. Whatever your brother was going through at the time was difficult for him to deal with and he must have felt no way out, but I encourage you to hold on to your Faith and allow God to answer your unanswered questions as well as give you the strength to make it through. I know God will keep you and craddle you in his arms. Keep the faith.

  • Steven Summer

    I made a suicide attempt in 1978 aged 14 and 4 days. And again in 1979, aged 14 & 6 months. In March 1979, the front page of the daily Star featured 13yr old Eleanor Powers who hanged herself. An April 1979 Dailly Mirror mentioned and Andrew Potter, who suicided at age fourteen. Internet research on this is very frustrating, because info is scant. I have always been curious to know how rare was for the U.K at that time. In modern times I have heard of eight year olds atempting suicide. I know that hospital staff in 1978, and many adults and teachers seemed shocked.