Why More People Are Dying by Suicide and What You Can Do to Prevent It

By Stephanie Thomas

When it comes to issues that are difficult to discuss, suicide may top the list. Still, today’s facts surrounding this cause of death are worth talking about — if for no other reason than that building awareness may be just what we need to protect a loved one.

Sadly, Suicide Rates Are on the Rise

Husband consoling distressed wifeIn The Oaks’ home state of Tennessee, death by suicide recently hit a 35-year high, with an average of three people per day taking their own lives.1 This sobering trend seems to be tracking right along with the uptick in suicides nationwide.

Federal data from 1999 to 2014 shows a steady increase, with the number of suicides going up 24 percent in just 15 years. To better understand the change, let’s look at it from a few angles.

Overarching Statistics to Help Us Gain Perspective

More than 42,000 people died by suicide in 2014.2 By comparison, over 11,000 people were killed by guns in the same year.3 This current reality puts suicide in the top 10 leading causes of death for Americans ages 10-64.4

Women are most likely to die by suicide between the ages of 45 and 64, while men are most likely to take their own lives at 75 or older. Male and female suicide also differs with regard to primary method — guns for men and poisoning for women.4

What the Study Tells Us

While researchers focused on data from 1999 to 2014, it’s important to note that the biggest jump in overall suicide rates began in 2006 and continued for the remainder of the study. This, of course, suggests that the few years between 2014 and today will show an increase as well.4

Men kill themselves more frequently than women, but the latest study shows the overall rates by gender inching closer together:

  • A total of 45 percent more females died by suicide in 2014 than in 1999.
  • Just 16 percent more males took their own lives in 2014 than in 1999.

The largest suicide rate increases by gender were found in the following age groups:

  • Females ages 10-14 with a 200 percent increase
  • Males ages 45-64 with a 43 percent increase4

Child and Teen Suicide Rates Are of Particular Concern

As mentioned, girls between ages 10 and 14 killed themselves at twice the rate in 2014 compared with 1999. Boys of the same age are much less likely to die by suicide in general, yet researchers still saw a significant increase in male death by suicide for preteens and young teenagers.4

For American teenagers as a whole — specifically ages 12 to 19 — suicide now ranks second on the list of leading causes of death.5 And, as one expert explains, these numbers only represent completed suicides. For every death by suicide of a teenage girl, doctors may see 90 patients who attempted it.5

Researchers Try to Understand Why More People Are Taking Their Own Lives

When it comes to grasping our nation’s increasing rates of suicide, experts must rely on a broad understanding of both societal and individual struggles. These include:

  • The stigma associated with uttering the words, “Sometimes I just want to kill myself.”1
  • Inadequate care for people with mental health issues6
  • Depression among children and teens — up 50 percent over the last decade — combined with the overprescribing of antidepressants known to cause suicidal thoughts in young people5
  • The prevalence of social media, which encourages vulnerable people to compare themselves with others and allows bullies to attack without retribution5
  • Work- and money-related stress, particularly among middle-aged adults within rural white communities where low levels of education and high levels of poverty are common2
  • Loneliness as a result of people getting married later and divorced more frequently2

Here’s How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

It helps to recognize that while some people may consider killing themselves for a number of years, half will wait just 10 minutes or less to transition from thinking about suicide to acting.3

This matters for two reasons:

  1. We should take any and all talk of suicide seriously. If your friend or loved one mentions in any way that she may kill herself, respond immediately.6
  2. At the same time, because a person can go quickly go from considering to carrying out suicide, we simply cannot hold ourselves responsible for not stopping them.

What we can do is learn the signs and get help when we see those signs in someone we love. In addition to a direct statement about suicide, you might be on the lookout for hints of extreme depression or a quick reversal of depression that may be an expression of relief for a life nearing its end.6

If you suspect your friend or loved one may be struggling with suicidal thoughts:

  1. Be present.6
  2. Ask her directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”3
  3. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You might encourage your friend to call, call on her behalf or make the call together.
  4. Hide or remove any objects she could use to end her life.3

And if you’re struggling with these thoughts yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can call the hotline listed above or send a message to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

If you’d like to talk about how comprehensive treatment can help heal depression and other mental health issues, The Oaks is here for you. Our admissions coordinators are ready to answer your questions and help you find the best recovery options for you.


1Suicides in Tennessee Reach Record-Breaking High.” WKRN, January 10, 2018.

2 Tavernise, Sabrina. “S. Suicide Rate Surges to 30-Year High.” The New York Times, April 22, 2016.

3 Silberner, Joanne. “With Suicide Rates on the Rise, Mental Health Advocates Search for Prevention Answers.” WBUR, May 19, 2017.

4 Curtin, Sally C. “Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999-2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2016.

5 Johnson, Christopher MD. “Why Are Suicide Rates Rising?” Medpage Today, April 13, 2017.

6 Young, Joel, MD. “Suicide Rate Increases: What’s Behind the Numbers?Psychology Today, April 29, 2016.

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