US suicide rates are the highest they’ve been since World War II, federal health officials said Thursday, with the rise particularly acute among indigenous women.
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate was 33% higher in 2017 than in 1999.
The increase was seen in both men and women and among all races and ethnicities.
Still, the uptick was not equally sharp for all groups — it was felt at a disproportionate rate by Native Americans and Alaska Natives, and particularly by women in these communities.
For indigenous women, the suicide rate increased by 139%. For men in the same group, it went up 71%.
The rates for this group have been particularly high among young people, with the vast majority of suicides affecting those ages 15 to 44. Among the 45-to-65 age group, the rate was highest among white people for both men and women.
Native Americans have long faced disproportionately high rates of suicide, particularly for young people, as compared with other groups in the US, according to the Indian Health Service.
“As a result of historical trauma, chronically underfunded federal programs, and broken promises on the part of the US government,” Native Americans face a slew of issues that have driven suicide into a crisis, according to the Center for Native American Youth.
According to the US Census Bureau, Native Americans face the highest rates of poverty of any racial group and have lower rates of high school graduation. More than half of women in this group have reported being sexually assaulted, according to the Indian Law Resource Center.
Native Americans also face the highest rates of alcoholism of any racial group, which researchers have linked to the arrival of white settlers on their land who brought alcohol and sold it to them. Studies have shown that people with alcohol addiction have an increased risk of suicide.
“Certainly for [Native American and Alaska Native] men and women, alcohol use by the individual and by family and community members is a major factor,” William Kerr, director of the NIAAA Alcohol Research Center at the Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group, told BuzzFeed News. “The opioid crisis is also part of the picture, and this has affected [Native American and Alaska Native] groups similarly to non-Hispanic whites, rising to levels that similarly have impacts through individual, family, and community problematic use.”
Kerr said that access to guns may also increase the risk of suicide, as could increased availability of opioids.
“Underlying these to some extent and also affecting suicide rates directly are economic issues including persistent poverty, unemployment, and underemployment in certain parts of the country, especially rural areas,” Kerr said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.