Last year in the United States, 49,449 people took their own lives, according to provisional data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the highest number ever recorded.

Mental health crisis

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the CDC press release: “Nine in ten Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. The new suicide death data reported by CDC illustrates why. One life lost to suicide is one too many. Yet, too many people still believe asking for help is a sign of weakness.”

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in the same release that “Mental health has become the defining public health and societal challenge of our time. Far too many people and their families are suffering and feeling alone.”

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Firearms

Suicide can be complicated, and while recent increases might be driven by a number of factors, The Associated Press reports that Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said “a main driver is the growing availability of guns.”

Guns are the most common method used in suicide, making up 55% of suicide cases. A distant second is suffocation (ie: hanging) at 26%, poisoning (ie: overdosing) at 12% and all other methods at 8%. In 2022, that translates to just shy of 74 suicides via firearm each day.

Analysis from John Hopkins University found that the gun suicide rate among Black teenagers has surpassed the rate among white teens for the first time in 2022. The Black child and teen suicide rate nearly tripled over the last two decades. Guns in general remain the leading cause of death for children and teens, the rates having nearly doubled in the last decade.

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Five action steps

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline suggest five steps to help safeguard people from the risk of suicide and support them when in crisis:

  1. Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves. The CDC reports that asking and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
  2. Help keep them safe. Like those billboards seen on I-15, you can ask to keep their gun, their pills or their sharp objects until they feel safe again. Reducing access to lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention.
  3. Be there. Decreasing isolation and increasing connection to others decreases suicidal ideation.
  4. Help them connect. You can help a person in crisis connect to the 988 Lifeline or use the SafeUT app. The CDC reports that individuals who call “were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of calls.”
  5. Follow up: It’s important to follow up with someone who has been experiencing suicidal thoughts. Remaining connected and supported is important.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or chatting online at 988lifeline.org.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy