Addressing America’s Rise in Suicides

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

In early August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more Americans lost their lives to suicide in 2022 than any year on record. Recently released provisional data found that last year, at least 49,449 Americans tragically took their own lives, amounting to almost 15 deaths per 100,000 people.

As the Associated Press reported, the data suggests that today, suicides are more common and prevalent in the United States than at any period since the beginning of World War II. Since the early 2000s, the rate of lives lost to suicide has been rising in the U.S. and in 2018, tragically reached its highest level since 1941. 

Although the suicide rate slightly declined in 2019 and 2020, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide rates have reversed course and again continued to rise. According to the provisional data, in 2022, the suicide rate was 5 percent higher than in 2018, which saw 14.2 deaths for every 100,000 people.

These troubling statistics are more than just facts and figures. Behind each number is someone’s friend, family member, and loved one. 

CDC data reveals a quiet and devastating crisis permeating our homes, schools, and communities across the nation. But amid this tragedy, there is still hope.

According to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, “Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can take to help others.”

In July 2022, the lifeline changed its number from 1-800-273-TALK to a much simpler, 988. The change makes the number as easy to remember for Americans in crisis as 911. 

Made up of a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers, “The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) provides free and confidential emotional support to people in distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States.”

Since the revamping of the hotline and the institution of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, just over one year ago, nearly 5 million calls, text messages, and online chats have been answered. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that texts through the lifeline increased by 1,135 percent, answered chats increased by 141 percent, and answered calls increased by 46 percent. The new lifeline is also much more efficient, with the average connection time reduced from 2 minutes 39 seconds to 41 seconds.

Although many Americans make use of this vital resource, too few know it exists. According to a June 2023 National Alliance on Mental Illness/Ipsos poll, 82 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, including more than 1-in-3 Americans reporting they “have never heard of it.”

The impact of the lifeline and its effectiveness in saving lives are clear. According to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, counselors are typically able to de-escalate a crisis, with callers “significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor.” 

The lifeline is available in the U.S. for anyone who is experiencing a mental health concern or worried about a loved one. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline makes clear that the resource is not only for managing a suicidal crisis, but also for responding to general mental health concerns.

There is no better testament to the hope that the Lifeline offers than statements from previous callers.

One caller said, “The counselor was truly kind to me, understanding, open-minded, friendly, and she showed genuine concern about me.”

A concerned parent called the Lifeline and “received sound advice on how to deal with my daughter’s friend who was in crisis. I was able to get him the help he needed.”

Another caller wrote to the Lifeline and said, “You saved my life … and I need to thank you.”

To save lives amid the tragic rise of suicide in the U.S., we must extend our support to those who struggle with mental illness and work to increase awareness of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.