The surge in suicides among middle-aged American adults was a startling revelation of new data released in May, 2013, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between 1999 and 2010, the number of middle-aged (age 35-64) suicides jumped 28.4 percent, from 13.7 to 17.6 per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the increase among younger adults and teens was small, and the rate among older adults fell.
The CDC reports that 38,364 Americans (about four per hour) took their own lives in 2010. The U.S. rate (12.0 per 100,000 people in 2009) is 34th in the world. Canada (11.5) is 40th.
Between 1991 and 2000, the overall U.S. suicide rate had declined. It was highest among the elderly and lowest among teens and young adults. The overall rate started climbing in 2000. The highest rate remained those over age 64 until 2004 when it was surpassed by middle-aged adults. The lowest rate is still among those younger than 25.
In its report, the CDC lists the recession as among the likely causes of increasing rates. An earlier analysis showed that suicides had been increasing by 0.12 deaths per year per 100,000 people from 2000 to 2007, but rose sharply to 0.51 deaths per year per 100,000 over the first three years of the recession (2008-2010).
It may be that most of the recession’s economic stress falls on those aged 35-64. Americans younger than 35 include teens and young adults who are not fully self-supporting and still live with their parents. Similarly, the situations of older Americans may be protected by Social Security, Medicare and the support of their working adult children. The most squeezed are the middle-aged.
The CDC cites analysis that Boomers (the generation born, roughly, from 1943 to 1962) “had unusually high suicide rates during their adolescent years,” suggesting some generational impulse might crossover into their later years as well.
Raised in the relative stability and prosperity of the 1950s and 60s, Boomers, generally, are an idealist lot. Many tried to make the world a better place and may be particularly frustrated by today’s enduring economic insecurity. Some may take it personally, blaming themselves for their inability to provide for their families.
Despite rises in all of the three most prevalent mechanisms of suicide (firearms, poisoning and suffocation (hanging)), the CDC highlighted the 24.4 percent increase in poisoning, noting “a rise in intentional overdoses associated with the increase in availability of prescription opioids.” Among women, poisoning was the preferred method (42.6 percent).
The use of firearms in suicide increased by 14.4 percent from 1999 and 2010. Among men, who commit 76.5 percent of all suicides, guns were used 53.1 percent of the time.
Suicide rates among children, women and men are significantly higher in Rocky Mountain and Appalachian states [see map]. In these and other rural regions, guns are a standard part of the culture, readily accessible. Suicide rates among children, women and men are significantly higher in Rocky Mountain and Appalachian states [see map]. In these and other rural regions, guns are a standard part of the culture, readily accessible.
Guns make it far easier to end it all in a relatively brief moment of frustration or despair. They also facilitate the rising rate of suicide among veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Furthermore, changes in gun laws have made it easier for those with mental illness to acquire weapons.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) acknowledges that, annually, between 600,000 and 700,000 people attempt suicide and seek treatment in the U.S. Yet, little is known of these people or what happens to them, due to the lack of a national system of surveillance. Gathering better data is a top NIMH goal.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Veterans Crisis Hotline (both at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)). The LHSFNA’s Mental Health Information and Resources page includes links to mental health resources as well as a veteran’s section.
Laborers and their family members who experience suicidal thoughts should contact their health providers and ask for help. Mental health benefits may be available through their health and welfare fund or Member Assistance Program (MAP).