Skip to Content

About Suicide

Scope of the problem

Suicide occurs when a person ends his or her life. It is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. But suicide deaths are only part of the problem.  Suicide attempts impact a larger population—more individuals survive suicide attempts than die. And they are often seriously injured and in need of medical care.

Suicide Deaths in the United States

  • There are far more suicides each year than homicides. In fact, in from 2008 - 2010, the number of suicides has been more than twice that of homicides.
  • In 2010, more than 38,000 people died by suicide.

Suicide Attempts in the United States

  • There are an estimated 12 attempted suicides for every one suicide death.
  • In 2009, there were an estimated 374,486 people with self-inflicted injuries are treated in emergency departments. The number increased to 464,995 in 2010 and 487,770 in 2011.
  • The estimated number of people hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries increased from 155,000 in 2009 to 224,000 in 2011.

Age Group Differences

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year olds and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year olds.
  • Suicide among 45- to 54-year-olds is a growing problem; the rate of suicide is higher in this age group than in any other.
  • Although older adults engage in suicide attempts less than those in other age groups, they have a higher rate of death by suicide.  Over the age of 65, there is one estimated suicide for every 4 attempted suicides compared to 1 suicide for every 100-200 attempts among youth and young adults ages 15-24.

Gender Disparities

  • Men die by suicide four times as often as women and represent 78.8% of all U.S. suicides.
  • Women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men.
  • Suicide rates for males are highest among those aged 75 and older.
  • Suicide rates for females are highest among those aged 45-54.
  • Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide among males.
  • Poisoning is the most common method of suicide for females.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

  • The highest suicide rates are among American Indian/Alaskan Natives and Non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders have the lowest suicide rates among males while Non-Hispanic Blacks have the lowest suicide rate among females.

Risk and Protective Factors

Suicide is a complex human behavior, with no single determining cause. The factors that affect the likelihood of a person attempting or dying by are known as risk or protective factors, depending on whether they raise or lower the likelihood of suicidal behavior.

Major risk factors for suicide include:

  • Prior suicide attempt(s)
  • Mood disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Access to lethal means

Major protective factors include:

  • Effective mental health care
  • Connectedness
  • Problem-solving skills

To learn more, see SPRC’s Risk and Protective Factors Resource Sheet.

Warning signs for suicide

Some behaviors may indicate that a person is at immediate risk for suicide. The following three should prompt you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a mental health professional.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

Other behaviors may also indicate a serious risk—especially if the behavior is new; has increased; and/or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Terminology

Suicide:

Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior.

Note: The term “committed” suicide is discouraged because it connotes the equivalent of a crime or sin. The CDC has also deemed “completed suicide” and “successful suicide” as unacceptable. Preferred terms are “death by suicide” or "died by suicide."   

Suicide attempt:

A non-fatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as result of the behavior.  A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury.

Suicidal ideation:

Thoughts of suicide. These thoughts can range in severity from a vague wish to be dead to active suicidal ideation with a specific plan and intent.

Unintentional injury:

A fatal or nonfatal injury that was unplanned and not intended to happen.  Causes include a motor vehicle crash, poisoning, fall, fire, and drowning. Unintentional injuries are sometimes referred to as “accidents,” but this term is discouraged since it implies the injury was not preventable.

Prevention:

Interventions designed to stop suicidal behavior before it occurs. These interventions involve reducing the factors that put people at risk for suicide and suicidal behaviors.  They also include increasing the factors that protect people or buffer them from being at risk.

Treatment:

The care of suicidal people by licensed mental health caregivers, health care providers, and other caregivers with individually tailored strategies designed to change the self-injurious or self-directed violent thoughts, behaviors, mood, environment, or chemistry of individuals that increase the risk for engaging in suicidal behaviors, and help them identify and address their emotional, psychological, and physical needs without engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

Postvention:

Actions taken after a suicide has occurred largely to help persons affected by the suicide loss, such as family, friends, and co-workers of the deceased.