It remains a topic few health professionals want to discuss openly with their patients. It remains a topic avoided even by many mental health professionals. Policy makers see it as a black hole without an obvious solution.
And now grim new statistics confirm a disturbing trend — more people are taking their own lives than ever before in the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics yesterday showing that 33,687 people died in motor vehicle accidents, while nearly 5,000 more — 38,364 — died by suicide. Middle-aged Americans are making up the biggest leap in the suicide rate.
It’s data that should make us sit up and think.
The New York Times has the story:
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.
What’s the cause of the rise in suicides in this country? Nobody can say for sure, but the CDC officials have some ideas:
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.
Men continue to prefer using a firearm to kill themselves at a rate far higher than all other methods combined (suffocation comes in a far second). Women prefer, instead, to poison themselves, followed by the use of a firearm. Suffocation (predominantly hanging) has risen as the new preferred method for committing suicide, rising 75 percent among men and 115 percent among women in the ten years studied.
Because the reasons for most people’s suicides are fairly complex, targeting new prevention methods and public educational campaigns to this problem is difficult. While suicide is most often the result of untreated or undertreated depression, getting more people who are suicidal to seek out treatment (or enhanced treatment) remains a challenge.
That does not mean we shouldn’t try, however. If anything, such reports point to the need of a redoubled effort to helping those in desperate need of intervention. Suicide is preventable, if only society put forward more effort to care and reach out to those in need. And not through the use of bandaid suicide crisis hotlines, but through the greater access of compassionate mental health treatment.
Read the article: Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S.
Read the CDC Report: Suicide Among Adults Aged 35–64 Years — United States, 1999–2010