Rising Numbers and Deaths of Despair: National Suicide Prevention Week 2023 Insights
Sep 11, 2023
What is National Suicide Prevention Week?
National Suicide Prevention Week 2023 is a campaign led by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Its main goal? To raise awareness about the critical issue of suicide—a significant personal and public health crisis. Starting with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, this year’s theme is Talk Away the Dark. The initiative provides resources for identifying warning signs and guiding life-saving conversations with vulnerable individuals. This September, everyone is encouraged to participate and remember: with collective action and understanding, we have the power to save lives and combat suicide.
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US Suicide Rates Hit Historic Peak
During National Suicide Prevention Week, we’re reminded of the rising suicide numbers. Tragically, 2022 marked the highest-ever number of suicides in the U.S., with an alarming count of roughly 49,500 lives lost—a 3% jump from 2021.
Interestingly, after a decrease in 2019 and 2020—perhaps due to initial unity during the pandemic—the numbers climbed again. Older adults experienced significant surges: 7% for ages 45 to 64 and over 8% for those 65+. For those aged 25 to 44, suicides rose by approximately 1%, becoming the second-highest cause of death in 2022.
Thankfully, the 10 to 24 age group saw a decline by over 8% in suicides, possibly due to amplified focus on youth mental health initiatives. Ongoing efforts include a national crisis line (988) and the CDC’s broader suicide prevention measures. The importance of early help and ending mental health stigma cannot be overstated.
Understanding Deaths of Despair
“Deaths of despair” is a term made mainstream by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton. It covers fatalities from drugs, alcohol and suicide. These deaths highlight deep-seated societal issues, hinting at a widespread sense of despair among certain groups. Key contributors are:
- Economic downturns, with numerous facing unemployment, especially in fields like manufacturing
- Growing social isolation as traditional societal bonds like marriage and community engagement fade
- Limited healthcare access, especially in mental health and addiction treatment
- Mismanagement of pain and the opioid crisis, with excessive opioid prescription being a significant factor
These deaths, arising from feelings of alienation, symbolize the intense psychological effects of unemployment and weakened social ties.
The Connections Between Addiction, Suicide and Fentanyl
The urgency increases when considering the suicide crisis’ connection to the addiction epidemic, especially the spike in fatalities from potent opioids like fentanyl. Being 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl stands out as a main player in many of these tragic deaths. As the top cause of death for Americans aged 18-45, its lethal impact intertwines with addiction and suicide. The drug can trap individuals, intensifying despair and sometimes driving them toward contemplating suicide.
Addressing the Challenge
Recognizing the deep ties between suicide, addiction and deaths of despair is vital for creating effective interventions. Proven strategies include:
- Heightened awareness through events like National Suicide Prevention Week 2023
- Effective treatment for substance use disorders that combines medical care, counseling and community services in a care plan tailored to each individual
- Prompt access to mental health care
- Up-to-date education for healthcare workers, educators and communities to spot early indicators of despair, drug abuse and suicide
- Safer opioid prescription practices and thorough tracking
- Promoting community-based support groups for individuals battling addiction or mental health issues
National Suicide Prevention Week is a plea for empathy, understanding and action. Appreciating the interplay between rising suicide rates, the addiction epidemic and deaths of despair can guide our efforts to provide resources and create effective strategies. Each life holds immense value, and our collective understanding and support can pave the way for healing and hope.
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