Health Care, Public Health

Suicide among adults aged 35-64 years: United States, 1999-2010

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(iStock)
(iStock)

Data issued in April 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that suicide rates in the United States have been on the rise over the past decade among middle-aged adults.

The authors of the report, titled “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” (MMWR), note that most suicide research and prevention work to date have focused specifically on youth or the elderly, rather than those in the 35-64 year age range. The report’s findings highlight the importance of prevention efforts that target Americans in this age range as well and address the mental health issues and stresses middle-aged adults are likely to face, including health problems and economic challenges. To draft this report, the CDC compiled and analyzed mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), relating to the period 1999-2010.

Key findings include:

  • The annual, age-adjusted suicide rate among persons aged 35-64 years increased 28.4%, from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 17.6 in 2010.
  • The three leading suicide “mechanisms” for the studied age group are: firearms, suffocation (predominantly hanging) and poisoning (predominantly drug overdose). Over the 10-year period studied, the greatest rate increase was observed for suffocation, primarily hanging, (a 81.3%, increase), followed by poisoning (24.4%) and firearms (14.4%).
  • In 1999 there were 7,634 suicides by firearms; in 2010, that figure was 10,393.
  • Suicide rates among both men and women aged 35-64 years increased between 1999 and 2010. The suicide rate for men within the specified range increased 27.3%, from 21.5 to 27.3 per 100,000 people, and the rate for women increased 31.5%, from 6.2 to 8.1 per 100,000 people.
  • Among men, the greatest increases of suicide were found those aged 50-54 years and 55-59 years; for women, suicide rates increased with age, with the largest percentage increase in suicide rate among women aged 60-64 years.
  • Among racial/ethnic lines, the greatest suicide rate increases were among American Indian/Alaska Natives (65.2%, from a rate of 11.2 to 18.5 per 100,000 people) and whites (40.4%, from 15.9 to 22.3 per 100,000 people).
  • Significant increases in suicides among middle-aged adults were observed across all four geographic regions in the United States and in 39 states.

The report does not offer concrete explanations for this rise in the suicide rate, but the authors suggest that a contributing factor could be the economy; historically, higher suicide rates have been observed during times of economic hardship. Other possible reasons could be the observed “cohort effect” — data suggests that the “baby boomer” generation had particularly high suicide rates during their adolescent years — as well as the increased availability of prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin, facilitating intentional drug overdoses.

See additional studies for information on mental illness, suicide among veterans and firearm violence. For more on the gun policy debate and its relationship to these issues, see the article “The Gun Toll We’re Ignoring: Suicide,” in the Boston Globe, which reviews a range of academic research.

Tags: mental health, guns, drugs


By | May 3, 2013

Citation: Sullivan, Erin M.; Annest, Joseph L. et al. "Suicide Among Adults Aged 35-64 Years – United States, 1999-2010," Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 3, 2013.

Analysis assignments

Read the study-related Reuters article titled "Suicide Rate Rose Sharply Among Middle-Aged Americans."

  1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
  2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?

Read the full study titled "Suicide Among Adults Aged 35-64 Years: United States, 1999-2010."

  1. What are the study's key technical terms? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
  2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
  3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
  4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
  5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

  1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
  3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
  4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
  5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
  6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

Class discussion questions

  1. What is the study’s most important finding?
  2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
  3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
  4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
  5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
  6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?

 

 

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