Sharp Increase In Suicides Has Pushed Down US Life Expectancy

'We are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.'

a woman in despair
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'We are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.'

The number of Americans who died from suicide was the highest in 2017 that it’s been in 50 years, pushing down life expectancy in the U.S., ABC News is reporting. About 14 in 100,000 Americans die at their own hands, pushing down life expectancy to 78 years and 7 months.

A Growing And Aging Population

Roughly 2.8 million Americans died in 2017, 70,000 more than in 2016, and the most ever since the federal government began counting in the 1910s. The uptick in the number of deaths can quickly and easily be attributed to the fact that, collectively, our population is getting older. It’s also getting larger: births in the U.S. in 2017 outpaced deaths by over a million (3.86 million births in 2017, according to Statistica). Immigration also brings in new Americans, essentially meaning that as our population grows, so will the number of Americans who die each year.

Declining Life Expectancy

As the number of deaths increases, the average life expectancy of Americans has been decreasing for the past few years. After a century of gradually-increasing life expectancy since the end of World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has been declining since 2015. A baby born in 2017 can expect, on average, to live 78 years and 7 months, about a month less than a baby born in 2016 or 2015, and two months less than a baby born in 2014.

So What’s Driving The Numbers Down?

According to CNN, the two main culprits are, in order, suicide and drug overdoses.

Since 1999, when the suicide rate was about 10 per 100,000 people, the rate has increased steadily to its current marker of 14 per 100,000 people. In males, the suicide rate increased 26 percent between 1999 and 2017, while in females it increased 53 percent in that same time period. What’s more, Americans who live in rural areas are twice as likely to commit suicide as are their urban counterparts.

Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, puts at least part of the blame for the increase on suicides on hopelessness caused at least in part by the widening income gap and divisive politics.

“I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide.”

Similarly, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses is skyrocketing. In 1999, for example, the rate of drug overdose deaths was six per 100,000 people; in 2017 it was 22 per 100,000. And the greatest jump in the rate of drug overdose deaths came from middle-aged adults. Specifically, in adults aged 55 to 64, about four per 100,000 died of drug overdoses in 1999; in 2017 that number was up to 28 per 100,000.

What Does It All Mean?

Centers for Disease Control director Dr. Robert Redfield says that the statistics are clear: far too many Americans are dying from preventable deaths.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.