Why suicide is on the rise in the U.S.—even as it falls in Europe
Could inequality be to blame?
Suicide now ranks in the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.
In 2015, 44,193 Americans died by their own hand. That was more than the number killed in motor vehicle accidents (37,757) and over twice the number who died through homicide (17,793).
The number of suicides per 100,000 Americans rose 30.4 percent between 1999 and 2015. The increase has not been uniform across all demographic groups. Those in midlife had the largest uptick in suicide. For example, for those ages 45 to 54, the rate increased from 13.9 persons that age to 20.3, or 46 percent, during that period.
However, suicide rates in other developed nations have generally fallen. According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates fell in 12 of 13 Western European countries between 2000 and 2012. Generally, this drop was 20 percent or more. For example, in Austria the suicide rate dropped from 16.4 to 11.5, or a decline of 29.7 percent.
There has been little systematic research explaining the rise in American suicide compared to declining European rates. In my view as a researcher who studies the social risk of suicide, two social factors have contributed: the weakening of the social safety net and increasing income inequality.