Expert Commentary

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

2013 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting that the suicide rate for middle-aged Americans has been increasing.

Depressed adult (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

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