The Impact of Natural Disasters on Suicide in the United States, 2003-2015

Crisis. 2021 Sep;42(5):328-334. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000723. Epub 2020 Oct 9.


Background: Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and severity and impacted populations develop mental health conditions at higher rates than those not impacted. Aims: In this study, we investigate the association between exposure to a major natural disaster and suicide in the US. Method: Using county-level data on disaster declarations, mortality files, and population data, suicide rates were estimated for three 12-month periods before and after the disaster. Pooled rates were estimated predisaster and compared with postdisaster suicide rates using Poisson-generated Z tests and 95% confidence intervals. Results: A total of 281 major disasters were included. The suicide rate increased for each type of disaster and across all disasters in the first 2 years of follow-up. The largest overall increases in suicide rates were seen 2 years postdisaster. Limitations: Limitations include the ecologic study design, county-level exposure, and low power. Conclusion: Increases in county-level suicide rates after disasters were not statistically significant, although there was evidence that increases were delayed until 2 years postdisaster. Additional studies are needed to improve understanding of nonfatal suicide attempts after disasters and the role elevated social support plays in suicide prevention postdisaster. Future studies should consider pre-existing mental health, secondary stressors, and proximity to hazards.

Keywords: natural disasters; suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Disasters*
  • Humans
  • Natural Disasters*
  • Social Support
  • United States / epidemiology