Rising Tide of Suicides in US Adults

Megan Brooks

February 27, 2015

The United States is experiencing a rising tide of suicides in middle-aged and older adults, driven by the country's economic downturn, new research suggests.

Investigators found that suicide rates among men and women aged 40 to 64 years have been increasing since 1999, with a sharp escalation since 2007.

"Relative to other age groups, a larger and increasing proportion of middle-aged suicides have circumstances associated with job, financial, or legal distress," report Katherine A. Hempstead, PhD, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey, and Julie A. Phillips, PhD, of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

"The sharpest increase in external circumstances appears to be temporally related to the worst years of the Great Recession, consistent with other work showing a link between deteriorating economic conditions and suicide," they write.

The study was published online February 27 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Using data from the National Violent Death Reporting System to investigate the role of job and financial circumstances on suicides in people 40 to 64 years old, the researchers found that between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of suicides related to external circumstances, including job or financial problems, legal problems, or difficulty in school, increased from 32.9% to 37.5% (P < .05).

In addition, suffocation, a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, increased disproportionately among the middle-aged. The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5% among those aged 40 to 64 years between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18.0% for those aged 15 to 39 years and 27.2% for those older than 65 years (P < .05).

The investigators note that "increased awareness is needed that job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and other financial setbacks can be risk factors for suicide. Human resource departments, employee assistance programs, state and local employment agencies, credit counselors, and others who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals."

They also believe greater access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, "as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises."

A study published earlier this month and reported by Medscape Medical News at that time showed that globally, about 1 out of every 5 suicides are associated with unemployment.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

Am J Prevent Med. Published online February 27, 2015.

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