Beyond fleeting thoughts
The data varies, but somewhere around 25 to 35 percent of adults in the U.S. have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives, says Christine Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Suicidal thoughts are so widespread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that in 2019, 12 million American adults admitted to seriously thinking about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide. It was responsible for 47,500 deaths that year.
“It does not necessarily indicate anything other than the fact that life is challenging for all human beings,” says Moutier. “Challenges and struggles are kind of universal to the human condition.”
The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, spurring a rise in mental health issues. The number of people in the U.S. reporting symptoms of depression in April through June 2020 increased fourfold over the same period in 2019, according to the CDC. Three times as many people reported symptoms of anxiety disorder in that same time period. And 10.7 percent of 5,470 adults surveyed at the end of June 2020 reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey.
“We do know, based on these CDC surveys, that Americans are feeling more distressed during the pandemic,” Moutier says. “But it’s also important to know that suicide is preventable.”