As lockdown stretched from month to seemingly endless month, there was a good deal of speculation that the combination of boredom and loneliness would lead to a spike in one of America’s grimmest realities: the high rate of suicide. The notion of a rising suicide rate was often used to argue against lockdown, with critics saying that the solution to COVID was only exacerbating another, equally serious crisis. And while it’s true that America’s suicide rate is far high for the developed world, new data says it didn’t actually climb last year. In fact, the nation’s suicide rate actually significantly went down for the first time in four years.
Suicide was the eleventh highest cause of mortality for Americans in 2020, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) — dropping by 5.7 percent out of the previous year and out of the top ten causes of death for the first time in years. Suicide claimed the lives of 44,834 Americans last year, slightly lower than 47,511 in 2019, 48,344 in 2018, 47,173 in 2017 and 44,965 in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Vital Statistics System. This data does not take attempted suicides into account, but it does fly in the face of the assumed thinking on the part of a lot of pundits and politicians.
One troubling stat that did rise in in 2020? Drug overdose deaths. There was an overall increase in “unintentional deaths” last year — it’s the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. — and that was largely driven by drug overdoses. The opioid crisis has continued to bedevil government attempts at containment.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, know there is help. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There are people waiting to talk and help.