Charting lethal middle aged trends


According to the just-released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” There has been a statistically significant spike in the suicide rates for middle-aged American adults, aged 35-64, who are white or native American.

The CDC report is based on observations for the period 1999 – 2010. The report found no significant change among other age groups (i.e. the young or the elderly).

To put this grim fact in perspective, in 2009, suicide claimed more American lives than motor vehicle crashes.

During each year of the study, suicide claimed twice as many lives as did homicide. Suicide is among the top five causes of death for U.S. adults under age 45. In 2010, there were 38,350 suicides in the U.S., making it the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, the CDC report concludes.

According to a similar report published by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention titled, “2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action,” death by suicide, “…is only the tip of the iceberg. For every person who dies by suicide, more than 30 others attempt suicide. Every suicide attempt and death affects countless other individuals. Family members, friends, coworkers, and others in the community all suffer the long-lasting consequences of suicidal behaviors.”

The CDC notes some important rends in terms of the method people chose to commit suicide. They state that the prevalence of mechanisms changed over the study period: “Whereas firearm and poisoning suicide rates increased significantly, suffocation (predominantly hanging) suicide rates increased the most among men and women aged 35–64 years.”

As to why people feel this is the only choice they have, the studies offer fewer conclusive insights. The CDC theorizes that some contributing factors for the increased rates in middle aged adults may include the recent economic down-turn (historically, suicide rates tend to correlate with business cycles, with higher rates observed during times of economic hardship). Also, there may be a cohort effect, based on evidence that the “baby boomer” generation had unusually high suicide rates during their adolescent years. There may also be a rise in intentional over-doses associated with the increase in availability of prescription opioids.

The Surgeon General’s report draws the matter squarely into perspective by stating, “Suicide prevention is not exclusively a mental health issue. It is a (public) health issue.”

It is an issue that must be addressed at many levels by different groups working together in a coordinated and synergistic way: federal, state, tribal, and local governments; health care systems, insurers, and clinicians; businesses; educational institutions; community-based organizations; and family members, friends, and others —- all have a role to play in suicide prevention, the Surgeon General concludes.

As to how these groups might help, the CDC offers a few ideas about suicide prevention strategies. They cite things that “enhance social support, community connectedness, and access to mental health and preventive services, as well as efforts to reduce stigma and barriers associated with seeking help, are important for addressing suicide risk across the lifespan.”

Obviously though, there are risk factors that loom with a special potency for those in the middle period of life. While we have all heard the term “mid-life crisis,” these reports put that simple turn of phrase in a harsh new light. There are of course, many more questions than answers.

Lastly, if you feel yourself edging toward suicide, or if you know someone who might be, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). A trained counselor will help you find the resources you need.