Suicidal Thoughts Highest in Utah, National Survey Finds

depressed guy sitting on stairs
A new study of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in U.S. adults finds suicidal thoughts are the highest in Utah, and attempts are highest in Rhode Island. (Image credit: © Ron Sumners |

While someone commits suicide in the United States every 15 minutes, many more think about it or even attempt to take their own lives, according to a new study showing that residents of Utah have the highest rates of such thoughts while suicide attempts are highest in Rhode Island.

A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2008 through 2009. Results showed that serious thoughts of suicide range from about 1 in 50 adults in Georgia (2.1 percent) to 1 in 15 in Utah (6.8 percent). [See complete list of state suicide numbers]

"Suicide is a tragedy for individuals, families and communities. This report highlights that we have opportunities to intervene before someone dies by suicide. We can identify risks and take action before a suicide attempt takes place," said Thomas M. Frieden, CDC director. "Most people are uncomfortable talking about suicide, but this is not a problem to shroud in secrecy. We need to work together to raise awareness about suicide and learn more about interventions that work to prevent this public health problem."

Though suicidal thoughts reign supreme in Utah, Rhode Island had the most suicide attempts, with 1 in 67 (1.5 percent) of adults attempting suicide there. However, only about 1 in 1.000 adults in Delaware and Georgia (0.1 percent) attempted suicide during the study period. In all, more than 1 million adults (0.5 percent of the population) attempted suicide last year.

Traditionally, suicide rates are the highest in Western states, including the Rocky Mountain states. This study, which looked at suicide attempts that didn't end in deaths and thoughts about suicide, finds a different trend. Adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to have thoughts of suicide than those in the Northeast and South, and adults in the Midwest (but not the West) were more likely to have made suicide plans than those in the South.

The highest rates of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts were in young adults ages 18 to 29 and in women.

"Multiple factors contribute to risk for suicidal behavior. The variations identified in this report might reflect differences in the frequency of risk factors and the social and economic makeup of the study populations," said Linda C. Degutis, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "These differences can influence the types of prevention strategies used in communities and the groups included."

The CDC released the findings today (Oct 20).

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Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.