The rate of suicide in Minnesota rose last year to near its previous high, marking a second consecutive year of increases after a dip at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deaths by suicide increased by about 3% from 2021 to 2022, with 835 deaths last year, according to Minnesota Department of Health data released Thursday.
Suicide deaths last year occurred at a rate of 14.3 per 100,000 people, which was near the previous high rate of 14.4 in 2019.
During the past two decades, the number of suicides in Minnesota has mirrored a national pattern of steady increases, the Health Department said. Figures for 2021 are final, while last year's numbers are preliminary.
"The rates have been increasing for 20 years, and we're seeing yet another two years of increases," Stefan Gingerich, senior epidemiologist at the Department of Health, said. "I was a little optimistic in 2020 when the numbers came down, and then they started coming back up again."
Males last year had a suicide rate roughly four times higher than females, the Health Department said. The age-adjusted suicide rate increased slightly in women in 2022, yet men still accounted for a significant majority (about 77%) of suicide deaths — a gender difference that's held true for a number of years.
From 2016 to 2020, women accounted for nearly two-thirds of hospital-treated self-harm or suicide attempts, according to the Health Department. "These patterns are likely related to the lethal and predominant role that firearms play in the death of males by suicide," the department said in a news release.
"It is important for us to take a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention that supports connectedness, belonging and protections from lethal means," Dr. Brooke Cunningham, the state Health Commissioner, said in a statement.
It's unclear, Gingerich said, why rates keep going up in Minnesota and across the country.
Causal drivers are complex, health officials say, ranging from a lack of social connections to financial insecurity. Protective factors are important, too, such as good access to mental health care and the strength of mental health promotion programs, said Tanya Carter, the suicide prevention supervisor at the Health Department.
Prevention efforts include the state's 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which has seen a surge in calls since it was launched in July 2022.
American Indians or Alaska Natives had a higher suicide rate in Minnesota than other races or ethnicities in 2021. Across age groups in 2022, Minnesotans age 85 and older saw a large jump in their suicide rate, from just under 15 per 100,000 people to nearly 25.
From 2011 to 2021, suicide, or intentional self-harm, was the eighth leading cause of death in Minnesota.
Families can find mental health information and resources for crisis care on NAMI Minnesota's website, namimn.org. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor.