The suicide rate for both men and women has risen substantially over the past decade, with an alarming increase in suicides by middle-age Americans, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide deaths now surpass those from motor vehicle accidents.
While firearms remain the leading mechanism for suicide, researchers noted a rise in intentional overdoses associated with prescription opioid painkillers.
“Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD. “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.”
While most suicide research and prevention efforts have focused historically on youth and the elderly, the report’s findings suggest that efforts should also address the needs of middle-aged persons.
The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said that for men between the age of 50 and 59, the suicide rate has nearly doubled from 1999 to 2010. For women between the ages of 60 to 64, the suicide rate rose nearly 60%.
Suicide rates for people 35 to 64 years old were also up, but by smaller amounts — 32% women and 27% for men.
Researchers suspect a major factor behind the increase in suicides among middle-aged adults was the recent economic downturn. They also observed that the “baby boomer” generation now approaching middle age had unusually high suicide rates during their adolescent years.
“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,” the study notes.
The suicide rate for people aged 10 to 34, and those 65 years and older, did not change significantly during this period, the report said.
Over the same period, the method of suicide changed drastically. While firearm and poisoning rates increased significantly, suffocation (predominantly hanging) was up more than 80% among both men and women aged 35 to 64 years.
Researchers say 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.
“The findings in this report suggest it is important for suicide prevention strategies to address the types of stressors that middle-aged Americans might be facing and that can contribute to suicide risk,” said Linda C. Degutis, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The CDC recommends that suicide prevention strategies include enhancing social support and community connectedness, improving access to mental health and preventive services, and reducing the stigma and barriers associated with seeking help.
Other strategies involve programs to help those at increased risk of suicide, such as those struggling with financial challenges, job loss, intimate partner problems or violence, stress of caregiving for children and aging parents, substance abuse, and serious or chronic health problems.