Long-term U.S. suicide trends changed heading into the pandemic, as rates fell steadily among Whites for the first time and rose among Blacks and Hispanics, according to federal data released Wednesday.
Suicide rates for non-Hispanic Whites fell 7%, from 18.1 for every 100,000 people in 2018 to 16.9 for every 100,000 in 2020, after having steadily increased since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Between 2007 and 2020, suicide rates for non-Hispanic Blacks increased by 53%, from 5.6 for every 100,000 people to 7.8 for every 100,000 following years of steady decline, according to a data brief from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Among Hispanics, suicide rates rose by 29%, from 5.8 for every 100,000 people in 2012 to 7.5 for every 100,000 in 2020 after remaining fairly stable during previous years.
“Suicide rates in the United States have traditionally been higher for non-Hispanic White than non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic people,” the CDC said.
Only time will tell if the change persists, said social psychologist Brett Pelham, a professor at Montgomery College in Maryland. He said suicide risks tend to be highest in successful people who suddenly face “some kind of personal or financial crisis.”
“Suicide is a very unusual social problem because it is one of the rare areas in which highly advantaged people typically do worse than their less advantaged peers,” Mr. Pelham said. “For example, it would be important to see if the Black and Latino Americans whose risk for suicide increased over time were those who were actually doing better financially than many of their same-race peers.”
The CDC report follows others that have shown suicide risks rising among minorities during the pandemic.
Mental Health America’s online screening program found that Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics reported the highest increases in suicidal thoughts from 2019 to 2021. Suicidal thoughts rose 9% among Blacks, 7% among American Indians or Native Alaskans and 7% among Hispanics during that period.
“There are many factors at play, including that Black screeners were more likely than screeners of any other race or ethnicity to report racism and financial problems as main concerns for their mental health,” said Maddy Reinert, senior director of population health at Mental Health America, a Virginia-based nonprofit.
Jane Pearson, special adviser to the director on suicide research at the National Institute on Mental Health, said the CDC numbers confirm research she published last year that showed suicide growing among young minorities.
“It’s important to understand that those trends have continued into 2020 and 2021,” Ms. Pearson said.
The CDC report found that gun suicide rates among Blacks increased by 56% from 2015 to 2020 and by 38% among Hispanics from 2013 to 2020 following long-term declines for both. Among Whites, the gun suicide rate fell slightly from 2018 to 2020.
Suffocation suicide rates followed a similar pattern, falling among Whites while rising among Blacks and Hispanics. Poisoning suicides remained stable among Blacks and Hispanics while falling among Whites.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the first year of COVID-19 health restrictions caused “unwanted side effects” for minorities.
“The pandemic hit hardest the most vulnerable populations, both as a viral infection and mental health,” Dr. Galiatsatos said.
Some mental health experts echoed the assessment, noting that Black and Hispanic men often avoid therapy as a sign of failure.
“The perceived stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment can deter individuals in these groups from getting proper care,” said Michael Adamse, a clinical psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida.