Oregon has long struggled with high suicide rates, but the state got a small reprieve in 2020 when it became one of seven to see a decrease.
Oregon had the nation’s 13th highest suicide rate in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. About 833 people died by suicide statewide. It ranked ninth the year before, when 906 people died by suicide.
The decrease may come as a surprise to people who expected suicide rates to increase with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic recession. But Oregon Health Authority analyst Jill Baker, who focuses on youth suicide prevention, said she expected the improvement.
“In 2019, the Oregon Legislature appropriated funds for youth suicide for the first time in a sustainable way,” Baker said. “And so Oregon has a really impressive infrastructure for youth suicide prevention.”
Oregon in 2020 had a 14% drop in suicides among people ages 24 and younger compared to the year prior, according to the state’s Youth Suicide Invention and Prevention Plan annual report. It saw a drop from 118 deaths in 2019 to 102 deaths in 2020.
States with higher suicide rates include Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and nine others.
High suicide rates tend to correlate with a state’s availability of firearms, Baker said. She and other suicide prevention advocates are focusing on improving Oregonian’s access to safe gun storage.
“Guns are the most lethal form of suicide attempt,” Baker said. “If you look at all 50 states ranking, states with higher gun ownership and lower gun storage laws have high rates of suicide.”