This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

By Sarafina Wright

The suicide rate in the U.S. decreased by three percent for the second consecutive year, according to the most recent data (2020) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. 

In 2020, there were 45,979 suicide deaths; in 2019, there were 47,511 suicide deaths, a decrease of 1,532 deaths. 

After peaking in 2018, the overall national U.S. suicide rate from 2019 to 2020 declined by 3%, including 8% among females and 2% among males. 

However, rates increased slightly for Blacks, Native Americans/Alaskan Native males, and decreased for other age, race and ethnic groups. 

The American Foundation for suicide prevention said they’re encouraged to see the national suicide rate decrease in response to the data. However, the data isn’t reflective of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is worrisome. 

“Unfortunately, the U.S. does not collect real-time suicide data, but in addition to finalized 2020 data, we are seeing provisional data for the first quarter of 2021 that suggests the rate remains steady,” Dr. Christine Yu Moutier, chief medical officer of AFSP, said.

Moutier continued that many factors contribute to suicide, which may have contributed to the decrease in rate from 2019 to 2020. 

“We cannot determine which specific factors may have contributed to the decline, but we do know that creating a culture open to talking about mental health and suicide prevention, educating people about what to do when they are in distress, making a wide array of supports available to those who seek it, using treatments that have been shown to reduce suicide risk based on research, supporting those affected by suicide, and passing legislation that make suicide prevention a top national priority are all positive advancements that we’ve seen over the past several years that likely had a collective impact,” she said. 

AFSP recently launched Project 2025, a first-of-its-kind initiative to support research, engage partners, and advance policies that will help contribute to a continued decrease in suicide, which is especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The initiative aims to impact communities surrounding mental health and suicide prevention and reduce the suicide rate by 20% by the year 2025. 

The AFSP said its other advocacy efforts have also led to the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which designated 988 as the new three-digit national number for those in crisis, replacing the existing 1-800-273-8255 number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

(As 988 is not yet universally accessible, individuals should continue to call 1-800-273-8255 until the full effective date of July 2022). 

According to AFSP, in conjunction with 988, legislation has also been enacted to build an effective crisis service system to support people in crisis. 

“Those who are in distress need to be met with resources that will support their mental health, including a fully funded, accessible, and well-designed national system of crisis services and health care,” Dr. Moutier said. 

“As the nation’s largest private funder of suicide research, we know that concentrated, strategic, culturally competent and evidence-based suicide prevention efforts can save lives. Through these efforts, and by all working together, we have the ability to keep bending the suicide curve down,” she said. 

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