The incidence of suicide has risen sharply in recent years among Americans aged 35 to 64 while staying essentially unchanged among younger and older demographic groups, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Using 1999-2010 mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System, the CDC researchers found that the suicide rate increased 28.4 percent among people in the 35-to-64-years age range, rising from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 persons in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 persons in 2010.
That compared to a 7 percent increase during that same period among young people aged 10 to 34 and a 4.9 percent decrease among people aged 65 and older. The changes in those age groups were considered statistically insignificant, however.
The CDC researchers cite three possible reasons for the suicide-rate increases among 34-to-64-year-olds: the recent economic downturn, the easier availability of opioid prescription drugs, and some as yet unidentified factor that may be unique to the life experiences of the “baby boomer” generation. As the researchers point out in their study, baby boomers had an unusually high suicide rate during their adolescent years as well.
“The increases [among the 34-to-64-year-olds] were geographically widespread and occurred in states with high, as well as average and low suicide rates,” write the CDC researchers in an editorial that accompanies the report.
Minnesota was one of the states with a relatively low suicide rate (16.0 per 100,000 persons in 2010) that still experienced a significant increase in suicides — 34.5 percent — among people aged 34 to 64 during the 12 years of the study.
Indeed, the Midwest as a whole had the greatest increase in suicide rates among 34-to-64-year-olds during the 12 years of the study — from 12.7 to 17.3 per 100,000, for an increase of 35.6 percent.
Most common method: gun
Most of the suicides in the study, particularly those committed by men, involved a firearm. The second and third most common suicide methods were poisoning (usually by a drug overdose) and suffocation (predominantly by hanging).
All three of these methods increased significantly among 34-to-64-year-old Americans between 1999 and 2010, but suffocation deaths increased the most, by 81.3 percent. By comparison, suicide-by-poisoning increased by 24.4 percent and suicides involving a firearm increased by 14.4 percent.
More Americans now die from suicide each year than from motor vehicle crashes, the CDC researchers point out in the report.
A closer look at the report’s numbers reveals that the greatest increases in suicides occurred among people in their 50s. The CDC researchers found that 48 percent more people aged 50 to 54 and 49 percent more people aged 55 to 59 committed suicide in 2010 than in 1999.
The increases were also greater for women: 31.5 percent compared to 27.3 percent for men. But men are still much more likely than women to take their own lives. In 2010, the suicide rate among men aged 35 to 64 was 27.3 per 100,000, while for women in that age group it was 8.1 per 100,000.
The racial/ethnic groups with the greatest increases were Native Americans (65.2 percent) and white non-Hispanics (40.4 percent).
Needed: more prevention efforts
“Most suicide research and prevention efforts have focused on youths and older adults,” write the CDC researchers in the editorial. “Although the analysis in this report does not explain why suicide rates are increasing so substantially among middle-aged adults, the results underscore the importance of prevention strategies that address the needs of persons aged 35-64 years, which includes the baby boomer cohort. Prevention efforts are particularly important for this cohort because of its size, history of elevated suicide rates, and movement toward older adulthood, the period of life that has traditionally been associated with the highest suicide rates.”
You can download and read the report at the CDC website.