Suicide Rate Among Middle-aged Americans Soars

Caroline Cassels

May 02, 2013

The suicide rate among middle-aged individuals in the United States has taken a major leap forward in the past decade, new research shows.

A report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that the suicide rate among men and women aged 35 to 64 years increased by 28% — 32% for women and 27% for men — between 1999 and 2010.

Increases in suicide rates were also especially high among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The increases were geographically widespread and occurred in states with high, as well as average and low, suicide rates, the authors report.

Increases in suicide rates among males and females were also observed from suicides involving hanging/suffocation, poisoning, and firearms. Suicide rates for individuals aged 10 to 34 years and for those aged 65 years and older did not change significantly during this period.

"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," CDC director Thomas Friedan, MD, said in a release.

The findings were published May 2 in the CDC's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The report's key findings include the following:

  • Suicide rates among those aged 35 to 64 years increased 28% (32% for women, 27% for men).

  • The greatest increases in suicide rates were among people aged 50 to 54 years (48%) and 55 to 59 years (49%).

  • Among racial/ethnic groups, the greatest increases in suicide rates were among white non-Hispanics (40%) and American Indian and Alaska Natives (65%).

  • Suicide rates increased 23% or more across all 4 major regions of the United States.

  • Suicide rates increased 81% for hanging/suffocation, compared with 14% for use of firearms and 24% for poisoning.

  • Firearms and hanging/suffocation were the most common suicide mechanisms for middle-aged men. Poisoning and firearms were the most common mechanisms for middle-aged women.

According to the report's authors, one possible contributing factor for the rise in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is the recent economic downturn. They point out that historically, suicide rates tend to correlate with business cycles, with higher suicide rates occurring during times of economic hardship.

In addition, the observed risk in intentional overdoses may be due to the increased availability of prescription opioids.

"These results highlight the need for suicide prevention strategies that address mental health issues and the stresses and challenges that middle-aged adults are likely to face. Such stresses include economic challenges, dual caregiver responsibilities, and potential health problems," the authors write.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

MMWR. Published May 2, 2013. Full article

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