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The United States faces a growing suicide crisis, with numbers reaching alarming levels, according to recent data released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In 2022, the country recorded a record 49,449 confirmed suicides, representing a significant increase compared to previous years. The numbers may increase, as suicide confirmations take time to be reported.

The steady increase in the suicide rate since the 2000s is a worrying trend, with the rate reaching 14.3 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022, the highest since 1941. Experts highlight that the causes of this increase are multifaceted, including problems of mental health, depression, loneliness and economic hardship. The stigma surrounding the topic also influences the lack of notification in previous years, since, currently, the classification is more technical.

The epidemic of drug overdose deaths, especially fentanyl, also contributes to the crisis, making it difficult to distinguish accidental from intentional cases. Additionally, ease of access to firearms in the US is cited as a crucial factor, with more than half of suicide cases in 2022 involving the use of firearms. Of the 48,117 gun deaths in 2021, nearly 27,000 were suicides.

Although mass shootings dominate the gun control debate in the United States, they account for less than 1% of gun deaths. Suicide using this method is a silent epidemic in the country: it accounts for 60% of deaths.

Although suicide rates are higher in other countries, the USA differs in this method, according to an analysis by the non-profit organization National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Experts warn that these weapons are particularly lethal in suicide attempts, exacerbating the problem. About 85% of people who use weapons for this purpose die. Among those who use other means, 95% survive — and more than 90% of those who survive do not try to kill themselves again.

Additionally, firearms have been the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the US in recent years, with a disproportionate impact on young black people. The firearm suicide rate among black children and adolescents tripled between 2003 and 2022, surpassing for the first time the rate among young white people in the same age group.

Suicide rates among different demographic groups also reveal troubling disparities. Older men, for example, have particularly high rates of suicide, reflecting poor health, financial difficulties and loneliness.

Authorities often focus on motivations for suicide. Experts would like the method to also be part of the focus of public intervention. Suicide survivors say they had little time between thinking about it and executing it (ten minutes), which means a very quick and impulsive decision, which could be reversed if the method was an obstacle. Even a lock can be a major obstacle between a teenager and the gun, or separation between the gun and ammunition.

Several experiments in controlling access to suicide methods reveal how rates automatically fall. This was the case of the suicides of women due to carbon monoxide from coal stoves in the 1950s, the access to toxic pesticides in Sri Lanka in the 1990s, the reduction in access to weapons in Switzerland, the ban on taking weapons home in weekend by the Israeli Army, the ban on the sale of painkillers in large quantities in the United Kingdom in 1998, and the installation of barriers on bridges in the USA.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s leading pro-gun lobby group, exerts a lasting influence on the Republican Party and fiercely resists almost all legislation against broad access to firearms. They deny the correlation between suicides and guns, just as they deny mass shootings.

Even so, states create their own laws to intervene in some way in the indexes. If someone threatens themselves or another with a weapon, family members can report it and restrict their access. This legislation in Texas and Ohio ended up influencing other states to adopt, totaling only 17 of them. Meanwhile, states that have overturned gun purchase permit control laws have seen their firearm death rates rise.

Another effective initiative comes from gun retailers themselves. As they realized the high suicide rate of their buyers, they began to take simple measures to provide guidance on handling weapons and preventing suicide. The measure spread across the country, even among other stores. The measure reduces harm among a gun-loving population that rejects state controls over their individual rights.

Although the suicide rate among children and adolescents showed a decline in 2022, experts warn that it is too early to determine whether this trend will continue. Investment in suicide prevention programs has demonstrated positive results, but there is still much to be done to address this crisis in all age groups.


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