Rising Numbers of Suicide Attempts in Younger Adults

Woman sitting on a bed with her back to the camera
Woman sitting on a bed with her back to the camera
The number of suicide attempts has risen in younger adults with less formal education and with mental illness.

According to recent research published in JAMA Psychiatry, the number of suicide attempts has risen in recent years, particularly in younger adults with less formal education and with antisocial personality disorder, a history of anxiety or depression, and a history of violence.

In this longitudinal study, researchers analyzed survey responses from 69,341 adults from the 2004-2005 and 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. The timing and occurrence of suicide attempts were recorded, and suicide attempts within 3 years of the survey were considered for analysis.

In adults in the United States, recent suicide attempts increased from 0.62% in 2004-2005 to 0.79% in 2012-2013. Suicide attempts were more common in females (2004-2005, 60.17%; 2012-2013, 60.94%) and individuals younger than 50 (2004-2005, 84.75%; 2012-2013, 80.38%).

After adjustment for age, sex, and race/ethnicity, the risk difference was significantly greater in those aged 21 to 34 years compared with people older than 65 (0.48% vs 0.06%, respectively; P =.04). Other factors associated with an adjusted risk difference included a high school education (0.49% vs 0.03% for college graduates, P =.003), antisocial personality disorder (2.16% vs 0.07%, respectively; P =.01), a history of violent behavior (1.04% vs 0.00%, respectively; P =.003), a history of anxiety disorders (1.43% vs 0.18%,respectively; P =.01), and a history of depressive disorders (0.99% vs –0.08%, respectively; P =.05).

According to the study investigators, the rise in number of suicide attempts corresponds with a national increase in suicides. However, the number of suicides was highest in individuals aged 45 to 65, while the number of suicide attempts was higher in younger adults.

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Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, researcher at the department of psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, in New York City, and lead study investigator, noted in an email communication with Psychiatry Advisor that the results shed light on the population at “greatest risk not only of suicide, but also of attempting suicide, which is itself an important source of morbidity.” 


Olfson M, Blanco C, Wall M, et al. National trends in suicide attempts among adults in the United States [published online September 13, 2017]. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2582