Understanding Suicide Risk and Prevention

Suicide is a preventable public health threat requiring a multisectoral response. There are promising prevention strategies in the health care, criminal justice, and education sectors. More work is needed to disseminate these strategies and develop others.

What's the Issue?

Deaths from suicide are at an all-time high, and rising—a concerning trend, given the increased social isolation, economic decline, and mental health and substance use problems related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. These factors are likely to exacerbate “deaths of despair,” including suicide.

Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2018, claiming more than twice as many lives as homicide. It is ranked roughly fourth among all causes of death in terms of potential years of life lost. From 1999, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking suicide, to 2018, suicide rates increased 35 percent to 14.2 per 100,000 people.

This epidemic of suicide affects all ages and ethnic groups, although certain populations are disproportionately affected. Suicide was the second leading cause of death in adolescents in the US in 2019. Between 2007 and 2018, suicide increased 57.5 percent in 10-24 year olds, with nearly 3,000 teens dying by suicide in 2017. Within the youth demographic, there is further disparity based on race. Black youth are now at higher risk of dying by suicide than their White peers. Although suicide rates in American Indian and Alaska Native populations have long exceeded the national average, the sharp rise in the suicide rate among American Indian and Alaska Native females between 1999 and 2017 (139 percent) is an alarming trend.

What's Next?

With deaths of despair soaring even before COVID-19, and with alarming projections of additional impacts resulting from the pandemic, policymakers must find more effective approaches to the issue of suicide by prioritizing investments and policies. Suicide is a public health problem that requires a multifaceted, cross-sectoral approach. As outlined in this brief, there are practical steps that policymakers can take to help prevent suicide. From examining the underlying risk and protective factors to creating policy that supports a multisectoral approach to suicide prevention, sufficient information exists to support policymakers in action steps necessary, at multiple levels and within a variety of settings, to begin to reverse troubling suicide trends.