THURSDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- The number of middle-aged
Americans who have committed suicide has risen sharply in the past
decade, federal health officials reported Thursday.
Experts aren't sure why the jump in deaths has occurred, but
point to the recession as a possible contributing factor.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, suicides among those aged 35 to 64 have risen by 28
percent since 1999 -- from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people that
year to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010.
More Americans now commit suicide than are killed in car
accidents. In 2010, the CDC reported, 33,687 people died in car
crashes, but 38,364 took their own life.
"We have known about this trend for a while now, the CDC is merely documenting it," said Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, who was not involved with the report.
Why the rate has risen so dramatically among the middle-aged
isn't clear, Berman said. "I and most of my colleagues are
dumbfounded to explain it," he said.
"The best we can come up with is maybe this is the group most likely to be affected by the recession and unemployment and [home] foreclosure," Berman said. "It affected suicide rates both nationally and internationally."
What isn't known, however, is how many of those who took their
lives were having financial problems, Berman said. Whether the
recession is the actual cause will take years to unravel. "All we
can guess at now is association," he said.
Thomas Simon, deputy associate director for science in the
Division of Violence Prevention at the CDC's National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control, said one possible explanation for
the increase in the suicide rate in this age group is that it
includes the baby boom generation.
"Historically, we have seen high rates of suicide in that [group of people] at earlier ages in their lives in adolescence and young adulthood," he said.
In addition, the burst of the dot-com bubble and the recession
may have played a role, Simon said. "Another explanation is the
increase in prescription drug abuse and prescription overdose
deaths and the risk of suicide that comes from prescription drug
overdose and abuse," he said.
"Suicide is an important public health problem across the lifespan," Simon added. "Traditionally we have invested in prevention for adolescents and young adults and prevention for older adults. What we are seeing now is suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for the middle-age group. We need to better understand how to address the needs of middle-aged adults so that we can prevent suicide."
Suicide rates for those younger people aged 10 to 34, and
seniors aged 65 years and older did not change significantly over
the study period, the CDC researchers noted.
The report was published in the May 3 issue of the CDC's journal
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Berman believes a lot needs to be done to identify those at risk
and get them help. "People at risk are help-able, but we have to
get them into help," he said. "Most suicides are preventable."
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in an agency news release:
"Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common. The stories we hear
of those who are impacted by suicide are very difficult. This
report highlights the need to expand our knowledge of risk factors
so we can build on prevention programs that prevent suicide."
According to the report, the increases in middle-age suicides
were particularly significant among whites (up 40 percent), and
American Indians/Alaska Natives (up 65 percent).
The most common means of suicide for both men and women were
hanging/suffocation, poisoning and guns, all of which showed an
increase, the CDC found. Guns and hanging/suffocation were the most
common method of suicide among middle-aged men, while poisoning and
guns were the most common among middle-aged women.
Suicide rates increased in all states and the increases were
statistically significant in 39 states, according to the
To collect the data the CDC relied on its web-based Injury
Statistics Query and Reporting System.
For more information on suicide, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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