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Suicide Deaths Declined in 2020: Experts Cautiously Optimistic

8 Apr 2021 — 3 min read

BY AFSP

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I Had Lost Five Students to Suicide

NEW YORK (APRIL 8, 2021) – Provisional data from the CDC on suicide deaths for the year 2020 have been published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). According to the new data, deaths by suicide declined from 47,511 to 44,834 (5.6%) between 2019 and 2020. Suicide has reportedly decreased from the tenth to the eleventh leading cause of death as COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death. 

Dr. Christine Yu Moutier, Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, released the following statement regarding the CDC’s provisional data:

“The reported decrease in deaths by suicide makes us hopeful that protective mental health measures are having a positive impact amid a time of collective distress. We appreciate the CDC’s effort to provide data more rapidly. While we don’t know the exact contributors to the reported decline in suicides, research does show us that prioritizing and having open, honest dialog about mental health on the individual and national levels, implementing practices that reduce suicide risk in clinical and community settings, and seeking help early and when indicated can reduce suicide deaths.

This decrease is encouraging from an overall population level, however, it is important for everyone to keep in mind the following as these data do not include suicide rates and are not final.

  • COVID-19 and associated mitigation efforts such as physical distancing do not alone cause suicide. Suicide is complex, risk is dynamic, and an individual’s personal risk factors combined with precipitants such as evolving experiences with isolation, depression, anxiety, economic stress, and suicidal ideation, and access to lethal means may lead to periods of increased risk.
  • This decrease in the total number of suicide deaths may not be a decrease in suicide deaths for all groups- as the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on particular populations. We do not yet have the data to consider suicide in specific populations based on demographic factors such as age, gender and racial/ethnic background or social determinants such as income, access to health care and stressors that minoritized communities may experience.
  • We may not understand the entire impact of COVID-19 on suicide deaths for another year or longer as the impact of COVID-19 may last beyond the pandemic and suicide mortality data take time to collect and analyze in a meaningful way. Additionally, we know there can be a time lag in the manifestation of distress even months after the acuity of a traumatic or stressful period is over.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effect on our nation's mental health is far from over. At the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we remain focused on Project 2025 and, our overall unprecedented commitment to positively impact our culture surrounding mental health and suicide prevention and ultimately, reduce the suicide rate by 20 percent by the year 2025. By mobilizing institutions and individuals to embrace stronger evidence-based suicide prevention practices and research, we can drive suicide prevention policy, increase open-mindedness around mental health, and save lives. There is a readiness to engage and implement effective suicide prevention strategies widely and for that reason, I remain optimistic.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, with an Advocacy office in Washington, DC, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

Contact: Alexis O’Brien, 347-826-3577, aobrien@afsp.org

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