Suicides accounted for the majority of violent deaths in 2021.
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Suicides accounted for the majority of violent deaths in 2021.

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Key conclusions:

  • Mental health problems have been found to be the most common cause of suicide.
  • Homicides accounted for 31.5% of violent deaths.

In the United States, 41,116 people committed suicide in 2021, making it the leading cause of violent death that year. MMWR the data showed.

Healio previously reported that deaths by suicide reached a new record in 2022, reaching nearly 50,000, a 3% increase from the previous year.

Suicides accounted for the majority of violent deaths in 2021.
Mental health problems have been found to be the most common cause of suicide. Image: Adobe Stock

“Monitoring the incidence of fatal violence-related injuries, identifying priorities, and informing preventive actions are essential components of public health surveillance” Brenda L. Nguyen, Master of Public Health, wrote a CDC epidemiologist and his colleagues.

Researchers used National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) data to assess the number, circumstances, and characteristics of violence-related deaths in 2021.

A total of 68,866 fatal crashes were reported, with 70,688 deaths in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Among the deaths:

  • 58.2% were suicides;
  • 31.5% were homicides;
  • 8.2% of deaths were of unknown intent and may have been caused by violence;
  • 1.3% of deaths occurred as a result of “legal intervention,” i.e. the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers in the execution of their duties;
  • Less than 1% of deaths were accidental due to firearms.

Nguyen and colleagues also found that 59.2% of deaths involved the use of a firearm.

Among suicide victims where the circumstances were known (84.4%), the suicide was often accompanied by mental health problems – 49% of victims were currently diagnosed with mental health problems and 29.2% were depressed at the time of death.

“About one-third of suicidal decedents had a history of suicidal thoughts or plans, and almost one-quarter disclosed their suicidal intentions,” the researchers wrote. “Less than one-quarter of suicidal decedents were known to be receiving treatment at the time of death, suggesting a gap between those receiving treatment and those who would likely benefit from it.”

According to the researchers, the most common interpersonal problems or life stressors preceding suicide were physical health problems (19.9%), relationship problems (25%) and “impending crisis” (30.1%).

The overall suicide rate was significantly higher among males age 10 and older (26.6 per 100,000) than among females (6.5 per 100,000). Meanwhile, non-Hispanic whites who were American Indian or Alaska Native had the highest suicide rate of any racial or ethnic group (30.2 per 100,000).

Among homicide victims, those aged 20 to 24 had the highest rate (30.6 per 100,000) of all age groups. The researchers also found that blacks had a higher homicide rate, making up 61.1% of male homicide victims and 43.5% of female homicide victims.

In the case of murders whose circumstances were known (70.3%), they were often preceded by a quarrel or conflict (33.5%) or problems in the relationship with the partner (14.3%).

According to Nguyen and colleagues, there were some limitations to the study. For example, they noted that the NVDRS data and findings were not nationally representative. In addition, suicide deaths among children aged 5 to 9 years were not included in the results because of the low number of suicides in this age group.

“Violence is preventable and reducing deaths in communities is possible with evidence-based approaches,” the researchers wrote.

They added that such interventions could include “social-emotional learning programs, improving parenting skills and family relationships, treatment for those at risk of suicide, and treatment to prevent re-attempted suicide.”