Deaths by suicide in the United States are at their highest in more than 80 years, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the turn of the century, US suicide rates have ticked up almost every year. In 2022, the provisional number of deaths by suicide was just under 50,000, or 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people, a 3% increase from 2021. That level is unmatched since 1941, when the United States was on the precipice of World War II.

One shimmer of light in the latest numbers was a decline in the suicide rate in young people—by 18% among 10- to 14-year-olds and by 9% among 15- to 24-year-olds.

But older adults remain at especially high risk, particularly males aged over 75 (43.7 deaths per 100,000 people). American Indian and Alaska Native non-Hispanic people of all ages had the highest suicide rate (26.7 deaths per 100,000 people) of any race group.

Sarah Ketchen Lipson is an associate professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University School of Public Health and the principal investigator of the Healthy Minds Network, where she leads the nation’s largest survey of mental health in higher education.

Here, she talks about why the overall rates are so high and what more the United States could be doing to reduce deaths:

Q. Why have suicide rates been rising steadily this century?

There are so many factors to think about. Of course, not everyone who dies by suicide has been experiencing depression or another mental health condition, but these are generally correlated. So, some of the same reasons that we’ve seen increases in prevalence of depression, anxiety, and other disorders can also be thought of as risk factors for suicide.

Some of these include financial stress, uncertainty—around the economy, the job market, and sociopolitical factors—and loneliness, which has changed dramatically over the last century, even if we take out the years of the pandemic.

And then there’s the means: how people die by suicide in this country. We can’t discuss suicide and suicide prevention without talking about gun laws. Most deaths by suicide are with firearms and decreasing access to firearms is an important way to prevent folks from dying by suicide.

Q. One standout data point is the decline in deaths by suicide among young people.

I am always hopeful that there will be indications of positive trends in mental health, but I think it might be overstating to say that there’s been a significant decrease. For example, the data among females 15 to 24, which went from 6.1 to 5.9 deaths per 100,000 from 2021 to 2022—a small change, but a change in the right direction.

I think it’s important to keep looking at these trends, but not put too much value on just one year of data; I would like to see that trend continue next year. I wouldn’t go as far as to say these [CDC] data are good news—the rates of death by suicide and suicidal ideation are still very high.

Read the full article about suicide rates by Andrew Thurston at Futurity.