Recently, the New York Times reported on a disturbing uptick in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans. Suicide among those ages 35-64 rose nearly 30 percent from 1999 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Times points out that previously, suicide was largely thought to be most prevalent among youth and elderly populations; the CDC findings come as a surprise to many. Moreover, it was found that middle-aged men commit suicide at much higher rates than women in the same category. The suicide rate for middle-aged women was 8.1 deaths per 100,000, while for men it more than tripled to 27.3 deaths per 100,000.
Why did this rate rise so quickly in just a decade? Experts point to the troubled economy as a likely factor. In the first decade of the 2000s, many baby boomers lost hard-earned economic standing for their families, struggled to make ends meet in a way they never had before and suddenly worried about the quality of future opportunities for their children and themselves. Statistically, suicide rates increase during all economic downturns.
Others point to unprecedented changes in daily life during this decade. As innovations in health and wellness allowed Americans to live longer, baby boomers became caretakers to aging parents. Additionally, facing a struggling job market, young adults stayed closer to home after graduating from college, extending parents’ caretaking years.
Baby boomers are finding that they need to consider new ways of coping and new perspectives on what life is — perspectives not passed on by their parents. We need to reconsider our attitudes on mental wellness and the resources available for achieving wellness. The general therapy model is incredibly valuable for emotional healing and growth, but with the sorts of burdens faced by middle-aged Americans today we need to better establish methods that promote practical solutions and coping strategies.
The U.S. Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention points out that “peer support plays an important role in the treatment of mental and substance use disorders and holds a potential for helping those at risk for suicide.”
Peer support offers ongoing links to daily management, practical advice and a sense of community for people going through similar life stages. So many baby boomers felt alone in their anxieties but frustration, anger and uncertainty has been shared over financial well-being, the success of future generations and the achievement of the “American Dream.”
We must find ways to open up a steady dialogue on these issues and create a system of support to prevent these tragic statistics from rising. A stronger network of peer support groups in this country will create a safe space for all to learn to cope, share practical solutions and move forward.