By TARA PARKER-POPE Published: May 2, 2013
Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.
Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.
Suicide rates can be difficult to interpret because of variations in the way local officials report causes of death. But C.D.C. and academic researchers said they were confident that the data documented an actual increase in deaths by suicide and not a statistical anomaly. While reporting of suicides is not always consistent around the country, the current numbers are, if anything, too low.
“It’s vastly underreported,” said Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide rates. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
The reasons for suicide are often complex, and officials and researchers acknowledge that no one can explain with certainty what is behind the rise. But C.D.C. officials cited a number of possible explanations, including that as adolescents people in this generation also posted higher rates of suicide compared with other cohorts.
“It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” said the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”
The rise in suicides may also stem from the economic downturn over the past decade. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. “The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period,” Dr. Arias said.
Another factor may be the widespread availability of opioid drugs like OxyContin and oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in large doses.
Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials said there was a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.
Dr. Arias noted that the higher suicide rates might be due to a series of life and financial circumstances that are unique to the baby boomer generation. Men and women in that age group are often coping with the stress of caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.
“Their lives are configured a little differently than it has been in the past for that age group,” Dr. Arias said. “It may not be that they are more sensitive or that they have a predisposition to suicide, but that they may be dealing with more.”
Preliminary research at Rutgers suggests that the risk for suicide is unlikely to abate for future generations. Changes in marriage, social isolation and family roles mean many of the pressures faced by baby boomers will continue in the next generation, Dr. Phillips said.
“The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way,” she said. “All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well.”
Nancy Berliner, a Boston historian, lost her 58-year-old husband to suicide nearly two years ago. She said that while the reasons for his suicide were complex, she would like to see more attention paid to prevention and support for family members who lose someone to suicide.
“One suicide can inspire other people, unfortunately, to view suicide as an option,” Ms. Berliner said. “It’s important that society becomes more comfortable with discussing it. Then the people left behind will not have this stigma.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 3, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Suicide Rates In Middle Age Soared in U.S..
By jennacyprus | Posted May 3, 2013 | Seattle, Washington
According to a recent report by Forbes, suicide among veterans is at an all-time high. While posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the stresses of war and service have traditionally led to a higher suicide rate, the statistics now linger at 22 per day. The Department of Veteran Affairs cites that nearly every hour, another serviceman or woman takes their own life. What can be done about it?
The vast majority of suicides are committed by older veterans, with 69 percent being older than 50. An additional 30 percent of the suicides are committed by veterans younger than 41, and supposedly in their prime. A silver lining has emerged with technology providing a promising avenue for preventing veteran suicides. In conjunction with traditional approaches, technology is being incorporated to help address PTSD and suicidal tendencies.
1. Dashboard Technology
The Army believes that the information and data to identify suicidal veterans--and possibly prevent suicide--is there. The problem is sharing information between various commands. Enter the Commander's Risk Reduction Board, a database of information on each soldier that can alert commanding officers about suicidal risks. Forensics show that, in hindsight, oftentimes warning signs are there, but the issue is acting on them immediately.
2. 24 Systems Become One
At the moment, the Army is utilizing 14 individual systems to collaborate it into one large, suicide prevention database. Future plans include incorporating an additional 10 systems into the larger unit. There are numerous files on soldiers and vets, some protected by HIPAA Law, but experts agree that there's a way to lawfully streamline the databases.
3. Identifying High Risk Soldiers
The typical commanding officer has 3,000 soldiers to look after. The number of veterans key officers may be in charge of can be even greater. By creating an algorithm based on risk factors, such as someone attending alcohol rehabilitation or going through a divorce, it can create an automated red flag. One person can't be expected to care for thousands of people alone, but technology can help.
4. The Army's Communications-Electronics Commands Steps Up
Initially, the Army asked for outside bids to complete the dashboard, but were promised a delivery of two to five years. That wasn't acceptable given the spike in suicide rates. In the end, it was the Army's own service men and women that delivered a pilot program in six short weeks. Already, some preventative measures are in place and the future looks promising.
5. Virtual Soldier Turns Vet
Right now, the goal of the Army is to create a virtual soldier profile for eachactive soldier. This profile follows them through station moves and tracks major life events, such as the loss of a child and other potential risk factors. Eventually, this can be expanded to a virtual veteran profile--and actually, it's a fairly rational expansion.
6. Increased Connectivity
Beyond the Army's dashboard, simply being in touch with a support network can play a key role in suicide prevention. While studies show that people who use the internet more are actually more likely to commit suicide, it doesn't consider what the internet is being used for. For example, many veterans might feel like there's no one to reach out to, but nonprofits and government agencies can utilize texts, social media sites and online mentoring.
7. Support Groups Online
While it might be uncomfortable for a veteran to attend an in-person support group, the anonymity offered online might encourage more vets to join. Prior to attempting suicide, many vets look for an outlet and can't find one. By utilizing online tools or virtual therapy sessions or support groups and marketing them properly to vets--that has the potential to decrease suicide.
While the the Army is taking a giant leap in the right direction, but more is needed. Many alternate avenues are being offer to veterans who are seeking mental health help. Additionally, as more treatments are developed and research, the Army should be looking to open up the options even further. Obviously not every treatment is going to work for every soldier so as many as possible should be offered. It's time to reverse this trend and start supporting veterans properly.
Suicide Prevention Coalition of Garfield County