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Latest Suicide Data Show the Depth of U.S. Mental Health Crisis

While material well-being has improved, America’s emotional distress has climbed to crisis levels.

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Illustration: Jun Cen for Bloomberg Businessweek

So many statistics say that life in the U.S. is getting better. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969. Violent crime has fallen sharply since the 1990s—cities such as New York are safer than they’ve ever been. And Americans lived nine years longer, on average, in 2017 than they did in 1960. It would make sense that the psychic well-being of the nation would improve along with measures like that.

Yet something isn’t right. In 2017, 47,000 people died by suicide, and there were 1.4 million suicide attempts. U.S. suicide rates are at the highest level since World War II, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 20, when it released a study on the problem. And it’s getting worse: The U.S. suicide rate increased on average by about 1% a year from 2000 through 2006 and by 2% a year from 2006 through 2016.