A study published today has found an alarming trend: suicide now kills more people than do car accidents. In fact, while the number of car crash-related deaths has declined significantly, the number of suicide-related deaths, via poisonings and falls, has increased drastically. 

"Suicides are terribly undercounted; I think the problem is much worse than official data would lead us to believe," study author Ian Rockett said. Rockett, a professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University, believes that as many as 20 percent of deaths could be unrecognized suicides. He pointed to overdoses in particular, many of which were caused by prescription drugs. He said that this rise was a problem mostly swept under the rug, and he would like to see the same amount of attention placed on suicides as there is on traffic fatalities.

The study authors examined data provided by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics to determine the number of injury deaths. They found that unintentional and intentional deaths had increased 10 percent between 2000 and 2009 but car accident deaths do not account for that jump.

Deaths from car accidents decreased 25 percent, while deaths from poisoning rose 125 percent, deaths from falls rose 71 percent, and deaths from suicides rose 15 percent. Suicide is now the leading cause of injury deaths.

Recently, the U.S. government, and private companies like Facebook, are attempting to lower suicide rates. In 2009, 37,000 Americans took their own lives. Another 500,000 were considered at risk for suicide.

Reasons for the decline in car accident deaths can be credited to a number of different things. Standards for automakers have increased, adding airbags to many cars, and laws in many states have made it a crime not to use child restraints, seat belts or motorcycle helmets. The penalties against underage drinking, too, have saved many lives.

Interestingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also thanks the recession for lowering car accident fatalities.

The government bureau states that fatalities have traditionally dipped during recessions and that states whose unemployment rate increased more dramatically also had lower numbers of car accident deaths. Perhaps that link exists because, during bad economic times, people are less likely to have the money for gas and car maintenance, causing them to be less likely to drive.

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Prevention of suicide and other unintentional injuries could lengthen a person's life by as much as three decades.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.