Mental Illness: Facts about Suicide

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Facts about Suicide

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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In 2004, approximately 32,400 people died from suicide in the United States, making it the eleventh leading cause of death in this country. Almost all people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly depression, or a substance abuse problem.

  • The highest suicide rates in the United States are found in white men over age 85.
  • Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for males and the sixteenth leading cause of death for females in 2004.
  • The suicide rate in young people has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.
  • Men are more than four times as likely as women to commit suicide.
  • An estimated eight to 25 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. Men and the elderly are more likely to have fatal attempts than women and youth.
  • Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. A person who appears suicidal should not be left alone and needs immediate mental-health treatment.


Research helps determine which risk factors can be modified to help prevent suicide and which interventions are appropriate for specific groups of people. For example, because research has shown that mental and substance-abuse disorders are major risk factors for suicide, many programs also focus on treating these disorders.

Studies showed that a type of psychotherapy called cognitive therapy reduced the rate of repeated suicide attempts by 50% during a year of follow up. A previous suicide attempt is among the strongest predictors of subsequent suicide, and cognitive therapy helps suicide attempters consider alternative actions when thoughts of self-harm arise. Other kinds of psychotherapy may be helpful for specific groups of people.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a toll-free number available to anyone 24 hours a day, every day. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). All calls are confidential.

Mental illness at a glance:

Introduction | Depression | Bipolar Illness | Suicide | Schizophrenia | Anxiety Disorders | Panic Disorder | Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder | Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder | Social Phobia | Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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