Economic Cost of Suicide and Self-Harm

June 07, 2024

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Suicide is complex, and its widespread impacts are important to examine from multiple angles. The following research focuses on just one of those angles—the economic cost of suicide and self-harm. We want to acknowledge that this content does not reflect the lived experiences of those affected by suicide, which SPRC seeks to center in our work, and that it may be troubling for some readers.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7. Call or text 988 or use their chat service.

A recent study found evidence to support the economic benefit of investing in comprehensive, evidence-based suicide prevention strategies.

The study aimed to estimate the annual economic cost of suicide and nonfatal self-harm in the U.S. To do so, researchers pulled data came from the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Cost of Injury in 2023. They looked at the number of suicides and emergency department visits for nonfatal self-harm injuries by sex and age group during 2015-2020. They also analyzed the annual economic cost of associated medical spending, lost work productivity, and reduced quality of life from injury morbidity and avoidable mortality in that period. 

The researchers found that the average cost of suicide and emergency department visits for nonfatal self-harm injuries was $510 billion per year in 2015-2020. The average annual cost of suicide was $484 billion, which was 95% of the total. These costs were mostly due to lost life years ($484 billion), followed by medical spending for fatal and nonfatal injuries ($13 billion), reduced quality of life from injuries ($10 billion), and work lost due to nonfatal injuries ($3 billion).

Adults ages 25-64 made up nearly 75% of the cost of suicide ($356 billion), while children and younger adults ages 10-44 made up nearly 75% of nonfatal self-harm injury costs ($19 billion). Self-harm injuries were more common among females, making up 60% of emergency department visits per year. Of those, 70% were among females ages 10-24.

Emergency department visits and associated costs for males and females ages 10-24 was higher at the end of the study period. Among older age groups, emergency department visits decreased except for those 65+, which increased 23% from 2015-2020. Males were more likely to die by suicide. The cost of suicide was higher at the end of the study period for all age groups, except for the 45-64 age group.

The authors noted that these costs are likely underestimates because third party costs were not included in the analyses and the costs of nonfatal self-harm emergency department visits were limited to a year after the visit. Other related costs such as increased risk of suicide by family members were not measured. Nonetheless, this study provides compelling data on the societal cost of suicide and the potential economic benefit of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies.

Peterson, C., Haileyesus, T., & Stone, D. M. (2024). Economic Cost of U.S. Suicide and Nonfatal Self-Harm.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Advance online publication.