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Suicides in the US Reach All-time High

Suicides in the US Reach All-time High

This article includes the topic of suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Suicides in the US reached an all-time high in 2022, according to new data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to provisional findings from death certificates, about 49,449 people took their own lives last year, an estimated 3 percent increase compared to 2021.

KFF, an independent source for health policy research, notes that “Increases in the number of suicide deaths follow high levels of mental health symptoms during COVID, rising financial stressors, and longstanding difficulty accessing needed mental health care—particularly for some populations. Total suicide numbers may be undercounted, as some research suggests that suicides may be misclassified as drug overdose deaths since it can be difficult to determine whether drug overdoses are intentional.”

“The largest increases were seen in older adults,” reported NBC. Deaths rose nearly seven percent in people ages 45 to 64 and more than eight percent in people 65 and older. White men, in particular, have very high rates, the CDC reported. The suicide rate among males in 2021 was approximately four times higher than the rate among females. Males make up about half of the US population but nearly 80 percent of suicides.

As we reported on this blog, men are also much more prone to drug overdose deaths than women, and the fatalities are not always accidental. Another important factor is the wide availability of firearms. According to an analysis by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Gun suicides continued to reach all-time highs, increasing 1.6 percent from a previous record in 2021; 26,993 people died by gun suicide in 2022.”

“While the increase in gun homicides has gained public awareness, less attention has been paid to the growing epidemic of gun suicides—which historically make up the majority of gun deaths. The gun suicide rate has steadily increased, nearly uninterrupted, since 2006. In 2021 it reached the highest level since the CDC began recording such data in 1968; and this past year, in 2022, it surpassed that record,” the JHU researchers wrote.

The current epidemic of suicides by white, middle-aged men is correlated with an epidemic of loneliness. Approximately one in five American men say they do not have a close friend, according to the Survey Center on American Life's May 2021 American Perspectives Survey. “Only 30 percent of men reported having a private conversation with a close friend when they divulged personal emotions in the past week,” wrote psychiatry professor Charles Hebert in Newsweek in 2022.

Earlier this year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on the “healing effects of social connection,” in which he warned that “about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness” in recent years. “Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health,” Dr. Murthy wrote. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”

Loneliness, social disconnection, anxiety, depression, and other stressors can lead to substance misuse and, ultimately, suicide. “There is considerable evidence from population-based and clinical studies supporting a positive association between psychosocial adversity, negative affect, and chronic distress, and addiction vulnerability,” stated Rajita Sinha in a 2009 study entitled “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.”

Addressing social isolation and chronic distress usually requires people to seek help — an act that some men see as a weakness. “Men are socialized to not ask for help or be vulnerable—and they can be penalized when they challenge this notion,” wrote David Mayer in Harvard Business Review in 2018. “An informative set of studies from 2015 finds that when male (but not female) leaders ask for help, they are viewed as less competent, capable, and confident. And when men make themselves vulnerable by disclosing a weakness at work, they are perceived to have lower status. This is problematic, as not seeking help when you need it or admitting areas for improvement inevitably leads to mistakes and less development.”

The combination of social disconnection, anxiety, depression, and substance misuse can expose individuals identifying as male to serious physical and mental health risks. Men with substance use disorder need comprehensive treatment to address all relevant concerns.

Foundry Treatment Center Steamboat operates a specialized men’s treatment program for adult males experiencing substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. The program regularly treats men struggling with feelings of isolation, loss, trauma, and hopelessness. As previously reported by Foundry Steamboat, many of the men the program serves perceive a lack of purpose and meaning, which can contribute to relationship problems and depression.

“Living with active substance use disorder — even before someone knows that they have a problem — can cause extreme isolation and loneliness. Addiction destroys relationships and separates people from the very people best positioned to help them. Men with addiction are at especially high risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts for numerous reasons. We regularly use symptom rating scales to assess client depression and suicidality to ensure that they are getting the clinical and psychiatric help they need to feel better while they pursue recovery. We also build strong therapeutic relationships with clients and get to know them and their situations,” says Foundry Steamboat Chief Clinical Officer Michael Barnes, Ph.D.

“The need to assure that men feel a sense of belonging and know that they have peers with whom they can have a conversation about how they are feeling is a central reason for our alumni program and why we encourage clients to find a community-based support group that suits them. Suicide is very often preventable if people feel authentically connected and are able to self-regulate their emotions, and it is a problem directly related to addiction that requires vigilance and study.”

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