After a dip during the first year of the pandemic, suicide rates in Minnesota rose again during 2021 and 2022. A new report from the state Department of Health released Thursday said final data show 808 suicide deaths in 2021, and preliminary numbers show 831 suicide deaths in 2022.
Suicide rates in Minnesota, and across the country, have been on the rise over the past 20 years. The state saw a high in 2019, where the suicide rate reached 14.4 suicides per 100,000. The rate in 2022 neared that number, with 14.3 suicides per 100,000. State officials say suicide could be one reason why overall life expectancy may be declining.
“Suicide is a significant public health issue that involves the tragic loss of human life,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham in a statement. “It is important for us to take a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention that supports connectedness, belonging and protections from lethal means.”
While it may seem that some of these numbers are attributable to the pandemic, state officials say it’s not that clear.
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“You know, COVID was responsible for a lot of things. And it's kind of tempting sometimes to point the finger at COVID and say ‘it did this because …’, And I don't know that it's that simple for 2020, and I don't think that there's been any conclusive study or evidence that says it was that simple,” said Stefan Gingerich, senior epidemiologist focusing on suicide and homicide at MDH.
The numbers in the past two years also show significant disparities in race and gender. According to the state, male Minnesotans had a suicide rate four times higher than female Minnesotans in 2022.
According to the release, “these patterns are likely related to the lethal and predominant role that firearms play in the death of males by suicide.”
“There are strategies being used to prevent deaths by suicide with a firearm, and/or other lethal means,” said Tanya Carter, suicide prevention supervisor at MDH. She says those include training focused on reducing access to the methods people use, like “removing that firearm and putting it at a neighbor's house until the person is feeling safe.”
Additionally, she says the state Department of Public Safety can provide up to three free gun locks to people who request them.
Data from 2021 also showed that Indigenous people suffer from higher suicide rates than other racial or ethnic groups in the state, due in part to risk factors related to historical traumas, like a loss of Indigenous identity and economic challenges.
“Tribal partners said factors protecting members from suicide include positive connections through cultural activities, recognition of tribal sovereignty a sense of purpose, nature exploration, healthy eating, and reconnecting with traditional practices such as smudging, talking circles, ceremonies and Indigenous medicines,” the release said.
Latino and Hispanic Minnesotans also had more suicide deaths in 2021 than in the previous five years, according to the release. Race and ethnicity data for the 2022 numbers are not yet available.
The state recently released its comprehensive 2023-2027 plan to address suicide by focusing on two main goals: improving infrastructure and “[preventing] Minnesotans from having suicidal experiences and improve the lives of all those who are struggling, so they know they are not alone, help is available and healing is possible.”
State officials also recommend that anyone seeking help reach out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline via call or text. While it’s still too early to determine what its impact on overall numbers will be, Carter said they have seen an increase in calls, chats and texts to the line since it rolled out last summer.
“There is hope, there is help, there are resources available,” she said. “And so whether that be through the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, or your family, friend, coworker, whomever.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking about suicide, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.