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A Look at Suicide Rates Ahead of 988 Launch—A National Three-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline
Heather Saunders and Nirmita Panchal
Published: Jun 22, 2022
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Nearly half a million lives (480,622) were lost to suicide from 2010 to 2020. During the same period, the suicide death rate increased by 12% and as of 2009, the number of suicides outnumbered those caused by motor vehicle accidents. On July 16, 2022, the federally mandated crisis number, 988, will be available to all landline and cell phone users, providing a single three-digit number to access a network of over 200 local and state funded crisis centers. 988 callers who are suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and connected to a crisis counselor where they may receive crisis counseling, resources and referrals, and in some cases and where available, mobile crisis units may be dispatched. While 988 is intended to help fill gaps in the behavioral health crisis continuum, there is concern about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s readiness to handle the increased volume, which is expected to triple from 4 up to 12 million calls in the first year alone. In this issue brief, we use 2010 to 2020 CDC WONDER data to examine trends in suicide rates over time and by race and ethnicity, sex, age, and state, ahead of the implementation of 988.
Suicide deaths increased between 2010 and 2018 and then slowed in 2019 and 2020, although some research suggests suicide deaths are undercounted. The overall number of suicide deaths peaked in 2018 and then decreased slightly in 2019 and 2020, although some research suggests that some suicides may be misclassified as drug overdose deaths since it can be difficult to determine whether drug overdoses are intentional. Deaths from drug overdoses increased by 31% between 2019 and 2020, but the suicide death rate was similar.
Suicide deaths by firearms accounted for more than half of all suicides in 2020. Between 2010 and 2019, there were similar numbers of suicides by firearms as by other means. However, in 2020, there were more suicide deaths by firearm compared to suicide deaths by other means, as suicides by other means decreased by 8% and the number of suicides by firearms remained roughly stable (Figure 1). Suicide deaths accounted for more than half (54%) of all deaths involving a firearm in 2020.