In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed suicide as among the top nine leading causes of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 64. Experts agree that it’s a significant public health problem. Although anyone can be affected by suicide, some groups experience it at a much higher rate than the general population.
As with any public health concern, understanding the demographics of suicide and the broader social, economic, and cultural factors that can affect it is crucial to developing effective suicide prevention strategies. Here, we’ll review some important suicide statistics, including the groups affected by suicide at disproportionately high rates and why that’s believed to be the case.
Suicide and Gender
Men—particularly middle-aged men—experience suicide at a significantly higher rate than women. In 2020, the incidence of suicide among men was over three times higher than the rate among women. The reasons for this are complex, but harmful gender norms play a role, as do access to lethal means. In particular, firearms, which are more accessible in the United States than in many other countries, are used in three out of every five suicides.
As one 2019 BBC article pointed out, prevailing gender norms put pressure on men to appear strong, self-sufficient, and in control. Expressions of emotion or vulnerability are often discouraged or stigmatized as being weak. This emotional repression can cause serious mental health concerns for men and may make them more likely to engage in substance use, which has been associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Marginalized genders and queer individuals are also at a greater risk of suicide. This is reflected in the high rates within the LGBTQ community, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers. Suicide rates among trans people, in particular, are of great concern: according to a 2022 study, “82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves, and 40% have attempted suicide.”
Among LGBTQ populations, higher suicide rates are generally attributed to discrimination, harassment, family rejection, and compounding social-emotional factors impacting LGBTQ individuals.
Suicide and Age
Although older adults comprise only a small number of overall deaths by suicide, the rate of suicide among adults over age 75 is higher than any other age group (19.1 per 100,000). As a whole, elderly individuals are highly susceptible to social isolation and depression due to mobility and health issues.
Suicide and Race and Ethnicity
American Indians and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations experience the highest rate of suicide, followed by white people. The incidence of suicide among AI/AN individuals is 23.9 per 100,000, making it the 9th leading cause of death for those populations. In addition, suicide rates among Black and Asian or Pacific Islander individuals have shown a dramatic increase in recent years. A 2021 study reported that for Black individuals, the suicide rate increased by 30% between 2014 and 2019; for Asian or Pacific Islanders, the suicide rate climbed by 16%.
As is the case with members of the LGBTQ community, suicide among racial minority populations is rooted in social and historical discrimination. For example, colonialism and racism continue to have a major impact on Indigenous individuals and communities alike. Intergenerational trauma, poverty, unemployment, alcohol abuse, and sexual violence tend to be present at higher than average rates in AI/AN communities, all of which are believed by experts to contribute to suicidal behavior.
Suicide and Veterans
Many veterans face a unique set of factors that may put them at greater risk for suicide. Data from 2020 placed the suicide rate for veterans at 57.3% higher than the rate for non-veterans in the US. Although suicide rates among veterans declined slightly between 2018-2020, prior to that, rates climbed steadily from 2000-2018.
Many veterans experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which has been positively correlated with suicide, as a result of their military service. On top of that, the process of transitioning out of the military and back into civilian life is often stressful and isolating for veterans. These and other circumstances (such as disability, difficulty finding employment, and/or financial struggles) may contribute to mental health disorders such as depression and/or anxiety and substance abuse. Altogether, many veterans find themselves at the center of a network of severe risk factors for suicide.
Understanding the demographics of suicide is an integral part of suicide research. The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is dedicated to promoting the understanding and prevention of suicide, as well as providing support, hope, and healing to those who have been affected by it. AAS promotes the study of suicide as a research discipline, public awareness programs, public education, and training for professionals and volunteers. AAS membership includes mental health and public health professionals, researchers, suicide prevention and crisis intervention centers, school districts, crisis center volunteers, survivors of suicide loss, attempt survivors, and a variety of lay persons who are interested in suicide prevention.
By joining the AAS, the largest and oldest suicide prevention membership organization in the U.S., you will be among the ranks of the world’s leading suicidologists and suicide prevention experts. Ready to join? Individual and Organizational Memberships are available!