Suicide rate of middle-aged Americans surges

More now take their own lives than die on roads, prompting new focus on vulnerable age group

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 2:41am


Suicide rates are rising dramatically among middle-aged Americans according to US government statistics. They show a 28 per cent spike in the past decade in the number of people taking their own lives.

So prevalent is suicide that it now kills more in the United States than car accidents, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The organisation attributed the increase to the sharp rise in suicides among adults aged 35 to 64. The number of Americans in that age range who took their own lives grew from 13.7 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010, the agency said.

The rise was most dramatic among those in their 50s. This age group - the tail end of the so-called baby boomer generation - saw a nearly 50 per cent jump in suicides.

"Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common," said CDC director Tom Frieden. "This report highlights the need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programmes."

In 2010, vehicle accidents killed 33,687 people, while 38,364 died from suicide that year, according to the CDC

In 2010, vehicle accidents killed 33,687 people, while 38,364 died from suicide that year, according to the CDC, the government agency responsible for providing research and recommendations on US health and safety.

Among non-Hispanic whites and native Americans aged 35 to 64, annual suicide rates jumped 40 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively. Nearly three times as many men as women in this age group killed themselves, a ratio of 27 men compared with eight women per 100,000 in 2010.

And the CDC found that while most suicides were committed with guns, the number of people dying from suffocation and hanging rose the fastest, by more than 80 per cent over the past decade.

Previous research and prevention efforts have focused on the young and the elderly, but the CDC said these programmes should now be expanded to the middle-aged in light of the statistics.

"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 Degutis, director of the CDC's centre for injury prevention and control.

Experts are not certain why suicide rates are increasing so markedly among middle-aged adults, but suggest that causes could include the economic crisis of recent years. Historically, suicides have spiked in times of financial hardship.

The authors also noted the increase in suicides among baby boomers in their 50s may be a quirk of their generation, as they also showed unusually high rates of suicide in their teenage years.

The research suggested that there was a need to focus suicide research and prevention efforts on those in midlife.

The CDC said that some of the suicide prevention strategies included improving social support and increasing access to mental health and counselling services. Efforts could be stepped up to help those with financial or relationship problems, the unemployed, caregivers dealing with stress and the chronically ill.