Deaths by suicide grew to “the highest number ever recorded in U.S. history,” reaching nearly 50,000 in 2022, according to new data released by the CDC this month.

The CDC study, which shows the provisional data for 2022, reported that there were 49,449 deaths by suicide last year. Though the sheer number of deaths by suicide was 3% higher than in 2021, the CDC said that the final data for 2022 is expected to show an even higher number.

According to the data, which was “based on more than 99% of all 2022 death records” processed by the National Center for Health Statistics as of August, the suicide rate for 2022 reached 14.3 deaths per 100,000. This exceeds the previous year’s 14.1, which had been the highest rate since 1941.

The most heavily impacted age group was adults above age 35. These groups saw the largest increases from the previous year, with increases ranging from 3% to 9%. The suicide rate for white females was also among the largest increase of any group in 2022, with a rate increase from 7.1 to 7.3.

Four times as many males as females died by suicide in 2022, 39,255 to 10,194, respectively. However, the study does note that “suicides for females are more likely to be incomplete” because “their deaths more frequently involve drug poisonings.”

Notably, the suicide rates for individuals below the age of 35 generally decreased.

Native Americans and Alaska natives continued to be the ethnic group suffering the highest suicide rate, at 26.7 per 100,000.

Dr. Melinda Moore, a clinical psychologist and professor at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), told CNA that though the number of deaths by suicide is at a record high, she believes the number of people suffering suicidal ideation likely “dwarfs” the number of deaths.

“I see a lot of suicidal ideation on my college campus (students, clients we treat in our training clinic at EKU) and also in my private practice,” Moore said. “We know that about 12.6 million Americans indicated they had serious thoughts of suicide in 2021 and, I suspect, this number is increasing as well.”

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Moore said that though “there is not one reason we can ever point to that is able to demonstrate why an individual dies by suicide,” the “suicide rates have been steadily increasing for about 50 years” and this is “likely due to a combination” of “reasons why people despair.”

Poor mental health is oftentimes pointed to as the reason behind suicide, Moore said, but she believes that this is “not the sole cause.”

The lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and “the effects of isolation and physical distancing, and, of course, the anxiety created by the uncertainty of our lives, health, future well-being, and productivity” further exacerbated the issue, according to Moore.

Moore said that “while we now have better assessment methods and empirically supported approaches to treating suicide,” these methods are still “not being widely used by professionals who come in contact with suicidal individuals.”

“Suicide is a problem that is not going to go away without better use of the science we have to assess, treat, and manage it, but it must be addressed like the other major leading causes of death and taken seriously by funders, training institutions, and systems of care to address it broadly and systemically.”

Monsignor Charles Pope, a Washington, D.C., parish priest and author who has contributed to the Christian-based Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, told CNA that he believes loss of faith in society plays a large part in the record suicide numbers.

Pope said that “stress plus meaninglessness” can make life a kind of prison or “gulag” for many.

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“With the biblical narrative gone and the practice of Christian religion dramatically down, there are only ephemeral and worldly goals to seek,” he explained. “But since we have an infinite longing in our heart and the world is finite, it is a recipe for unhappiness, frustration, and depression.”

“The wisdom of the cross is gone,” Pope went on, adding that it is lacking “even among many practicing Catholics.”

“Faith has been reduced to a kind of therapeutic thing,” he said, “devoid of the call to take up a cross and courageously carry it in faith. So, life has little meaning for people today and neither does suffering, which becomes therefore a total disaster rather than something to get through on the way to something glorious.”