There were more suicides in the United States than ever before last year, and guns were involved in more than half of them, according to provisional data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the figures from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, 49,449 people took their own lives last year. The final figure will not be available until later in the year and could be higher.
The largest increases were seen in older adults. The number of suicides rose by nearly 7 percent in those aged 45 to 64, and by 8 percent in those aged 65 and older. More men took their own lives than women.
Several factors may be influencing the suicide rate, experts said, including easier access to guns and record gun sales, the continuing aftereffects of the stress caused by the pandemic, and political polarization, which strains mental health.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions in Maryland said gun-related suicides were the main reason for the overall rise in these types of deaths.
The number of people who used a gun to end their own life rose 10 percent between 2019 and 2021, while suicides without a gun fell 8 percent in the same period.
Between 2020 and 2022 US people bought more than 60 million guns, according to the US publication Firearm News.
It is estimated that at least 16.4 million guns were bought last year, based on the number of times that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was accessed. The system runs a background check on gun buyers and is required by states before a person can buy a gun.
Additional research by the CDC last year suggests that Asian American youth have also become prone to high suicide rates, being the leading cause of death for those between 15 and 25.
The number of Asian Americans between 18 and 25 who reported having serious mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts and actions has doubled in the past 10 years, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Maryland said.
Michi Fu, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who counsels Asian Americans, urged anyone who feels intolerably stressed to "reach out for professional help".
"If you are employed, reach out to them to see what resources are available from your organization …or use commercial or government-issued insurance. Most importantly, practice self-care."
At least 9 out of 10 people in the US believe the country is experiencing a widespread mental health crisis, the Kaiser Family Foundation in California said.
According to a survey it conducted last year, 34 percent of adults below 30 reported their mental health as "only fair" or "poor", compared with 19 percent from the age group of 30 or above.
More than 52 percent said they had "always" or "often" felt anxious over the previous year. About 33 percent of those surveyed said they had felt depressed or lonely often over the previous year.
Karen Cassiday, a clinical psychologist and managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago and past president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said the pandemic was detrimental to the overall mental health of people in the US. She advised anyone who needs it to seek help.
Historically, "the norm for any population is to show some impairment in mental health when a mass event occurs, such as famine or war", she said. "After six months most people adapt, and the general population returns to its normal pre-event level of mental health."
However, in the case of the pandemic, this did not occur. "The pandemic had several unique characteristics that lent themselves to triggering anxiety, depression. Anxiety disorders do not go away on their own. They can be readily treated."