Suicide Rates Soaring among Middle-Aged Adults

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FROM MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY WEEKLY REPORT

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans rose a striking 28% over the last decade, a possible reflection of the stressful economic times.

The annual, age-adjusted suicide rate among adults, aged 35-64 years, was 17.6/100,000 in 2010 vs. 13.7/100,000 persons in 1999, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The greatest increases were observed among American Indian/Alaska Natives (65%) and whites (40%).

The investigators are calling for additional research but suggest that the recent economic downturn might have contributed to the rise in middle-age suicides, observing that suicide rates traditionally cycle up during times of economic hardship.

Other contributing factors include a cohort effect based on evidence that baby boomers had unusually high suicide rates during their adolescent years, and a rise in intentional overdoses associated with the increased availability of prescription opioids.

The report also highlights a disturbing increase in suicide by suffocation, predominantly hanging, jumping 81.3% from 2.3/100,000 persons in 1999 to 4.1/100,000 in 2010. This was followed by increases of 24.4% for poisoning, predominantly overdose; and 14.4% for firearms. Women were more likely to use poison and firearms to commit suicide, and men were most likely to use firearms and suffocation.

"This increasing trend is particularly troubling, because a large proportion of suicide attempts by suffocation result in death, suggesting a need for increased public awareness of suicide risk factors and research of potential suicide prevention strategies to reduce suffocation deaths," wrote lead author Joseph L. Annest, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the CDC (MMWR 2013;62:321-5).

The statistics are shocking but have a ring of veracity, Dr. Michael F. Myers, professor of clinical psychiatry at State University of New York, Brooklyn, said in an interview.

"All of us in the field of suicidology are so involved in the world of guns and reducing suicides by firearms, but it's true," he said, recalling the case of a young man who aborted his plans for suicide only after spotting an emergency room across from a Home Depot where he was preparing to buy a rope--because he didn't want to wait to buy a gun.

In the report, Dr. Annest suggests that the overall suicide rates are likely an underestimation of the actual prevalence, because suicides might be undercounted in the National Vital Statistics System, which was used for the analysis. …