Suicide rates among U.S. women climbed steadily over the past decade and peaked among women age 45 to 64, according to new government data. The rate for women in that age group represented a 60 percent increase over the past decade.
This is according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. While more men died by suicide than women in 2016, the rate of suicide for women has doubled since 2000 to six per 100,000 deaths.
That’s compared to 21 per 100,000 deaths for men, with the highest number of deaths among men age 75 or older.
These numbers come on the heels of a June 7 report, also from the CDC, which found that nearly 45,000 people died as a result of suicide in 2016, up 30 percent from the number of deaths by suicide in 2000. These figures are based on information provided in death certificates.
More than half of the deaths the CDC tracked involved individuals who had no known mental health illness; the CDC said that more often, a set of conditions, rather than a single factor, leads to suicide.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. These latest figures come amid high-profile suicides last week of acclaimed chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade.
The increase among women in the latest report is “a pretty striking change”, said Holly Hedegaard, the report’s lead author.
The suicide rate among young girls has grown three-fold during the same period to 1.7 per 100,000 deaths.
“These are lives. These are people,” said Ben Miller, chief strategy officer with the Well Being Trust, a national foundation that has studies suicide and other public health issues. “We need to move to action.”
Miller’s group co-authored a report in May that showed that suicide, drug and alcohol use contributed to more than 1 million U.S. deaths over the last decade, a number that could rise to an additional 1.6 million deaths by 2025.
“It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better,” Miller said.
The report’s authors pressed policymakers to take action to stem suicide deaths. Among the recommendations: that mental health services be a required part of primary care doctor visits. This would allow a person to talk immediately to a counselor or other mental health professional when risk factors for suicide are identified, Miller said: “There’s no referral. There’s no waiting. You address the issue in the moment the person is presenting.”
In the days after Spade and Bourdain’s deaths, calls to the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline jumped 25 percent.
The CDC lists the following risk factors for suicide:
- Feeling like a burden, isolated, trapped, in extreme pain, or increasingly anxious
- Heightened substance use
- Increased anger
- Exploring how to gain lethal means
- Unusual mood swings
- Too little or too much sleep
- Expressing a desire to die
- Planning their suicide
But those at risk for suicide don’t always show risk factors. Andy Spade, Kate Spade’s husband, wrote in a statement that while his wife struggled with depression and anxiety, she was actively treating it with doctors. “We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this,” he wrote.
Many mental health professionals encourage people to talk more openly about suicide, to reframe it as a treatable public health issue rather than a taboo secret or personal failure. Often, the stigma surrounding suicide leaves people feeling too ashamed to speak up and ask for the help they need.
If you or someone you know has talked about contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.