Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for Americans, and it can have devastating consequences for those left behind. Data shows that suicide rates have gone up and down in the U.S. over time and also vary among different age groups.
While any cases of suicide are devastating, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there is some slightly positive news: Suicide deaths have dropped for young people.
What the data says
This week, the CDC released provisional estimates for 2022 suicide deaths in the U.S. While suicide deaths declined in 2019 and 2020, they increased 5% in 2021. As a whole, suicide deaths increased even more in 2022, jumping 2.6% — from 48,183 deaths in 2021 to an estimated 49,449 deaths in 2022.
Deaths increased 2.3% in men and 3.8% in women.
But the data also shows that two groups saw a drop in suicide deaths: American Indian and Alaska Natives (down 6.1%) and those between the ages of 10 and 24 years (down 8.4%).
What experts say
Experts say the decrease in suicide deaths is a good thing. "Certainly a drop in suicide death rates for our youth and young adults is a positive provisional finding," Dr. Cristin McDermott, division head of pediatric psychiatry and mental health at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. But she points out that the data doesn't factor in rates of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. "We should be hesitant to assume that because suicide death rates have dropped, that suicide attempts and suicidal ideation in this age group have dropped as well," she says.
Suicide rates in the U.S. are also still "unacceptable," psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Life. Adelle Cadieux, a pediatric psychologist at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., agrees. "The overall decrease in this age group is a positive, but it is important to recognize that continued work is needed to make for a downward trend," she says.
So what's behind this drop? There are a few things that could contribute to the decrease, Mayer says. "A huge factor is the communication among young persons themselves," he says. "They have brought into awareness the dangers of self-harm through social media and gaming communication and have been there for each other. Young people have brought suicide out of the closet and made it acceptable to talk about. This has been huge."
There have also been "significant efforts" made across the country to improve access to mental health care — in schools, community organizations and health care institutions, McDermott says.
"I would consider the influence of being back in school, extracurricular activities, athletics, community programming — essentially, socialization," she says. "Due to COVID and the resultant quarantine, isolation and school shutdowns, our youth and young adults missed years of socializing, which is a fundamental developmental activity." Kids suffered "significant stress and change" in their social and family lives, she says. "As we have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been reengagement. The shift back to in-person and hybrid activities comes with a learning curve and its own readjustment period, though we cannot underestimate the power and importance of connection and engagement."
Experts say it's important to realize that more needs to be done. "Though a decrease in the 10-to-24 age group is a positive, there is much work to do, not just in that age group but for all ages and for all populations," Cadieux says. "Everyone can be part of reducing risks."
Cadieux also encourages parents to do what they can to promote good mental health in their children. "Take time out to spend with your child," she says. "So much of parenting is telling our kids what to do or what not to do. Parents and kids both need a break from this. Having dedicated time enjoying an activity together helps to build positive interactions and gives your child an opportunity to share." She also suggests talking to your kids about their positive qualities and strengths, and highlighting their efforts and progress in areas where they're struggling.
"When your child speaks negatively about himself/herself, listen without judgment," Cadieux says. "Acknowledge that they feel that way. This helps your child know that you have heard them." And if you notice changes in your child's mood, behavior, school performance or how they are interacting with friends or family, reach out to your child's pediatrician or local mental health agency for support.
McDermott says more needs to be done on a broader level, too, to support good mental health in kids. "Policies to address child and adolescent mental health care must continue to be discussed and enacted, with a particular focus on sustainability," she says. "We should highlight the decrease in suicide death rates while continuing to vigorously pursue the ability for all to access excellent mental health care in an effort to turn this data point into a trend."
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.