The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans climbed a startling 28 percent in a decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis, the government reported Thursday.
The Washington Post reports:
Why did so many middle-aged whites — that is, those who are 35 to 64 years old — take their own lives?
One theory suggests the recession caused more emotional trauma in whites, who tend not to have the same kind of church support and extended families that blacks and Hispanics do….
…Another theory notes that white baby boomers have always had higher rates of depression and suicide, and that has held true as they’ve hit middle age. During the 11-year period studied, suicide went from the eighth leading cause of death among middle-aged Americans to the fourth, behind cancer, heart disease and accidents.
“Some of us think we’re facing an upsurge as this generation moves into later life,” said Dr. Eric Caine, a suicide researcher at the University of Rochester.
The study noted that the uptick mirrors the increased use of prescription pain medications. The CDC is prohibited by law from studying the connections between firearms and suicide.
People ages 35 to 64 account for about 57 percent of suicides in the U.S.
The report contained surprising information about how middle-aged people kill themselves: During the period studied, hangings overtook drug overdoses in that age group, becoming the No. 2 manner of suicide. But guns remained far in the lead and were the instrument of death in nearly half of all suicides among the middle-aged in 2010….
,,,For the entire U.S. population, there were 38,350 suicides in 2010, making it the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, the CDC said. The overall national suicide rate climbed from 12 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2010. That was a 15 percent increase.
For the middle-aged, the rate jumped from about 14 per 100,000 to nearly 18 — a 28 percent increase. Among whites in that age group, it spiked from about 16 to 22.
The biggest increases were found in the South and in the West. Rates among Native Americans and Alaska Natives also rose 65%. “However, the overall numbers remain very small — 171 such deaths in 2010. And changes in small numbers can look unusually dramatic.”
The New York Times also reports:
Preliminary research at Rutgers suggests that the risk for suicide is unlikely to abate for future generations. Changes in marriage, social isolation and family roles mean many of the pressures faced by baby boomers will continue in the next generation, Dr. Phillips said.
“The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way,” she said. “All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well.”
Nancy Berliner, a Boston historian, lost her 58-year-old husband to suicide nearly two years ago. She said that while the reasons for his suicide were complex, she would like to see more attention paid to prevention and support for family members who lose someone to suicide.
“One suicide can inspire other people, unfortunately, to view suicide as an option,” Ms. Berliner said. “It’s important that society becomes more comfortable with discussing it. Then the people left behind will not have this stigma.”
The CDC report is here.