Great Recession Tied to More Older Adult Suicides

Suicide rates for adults in the United States between the ages of 40 and 64 have risen about 40 percent since 1999, with a sharp rise since 2007, according to a new study.

A possible explanation for the jump could be the detrimental effects of the economic downturn of 2007-2009, which had a disproportionate effect on the house values, household finances, and retirement savings for people in that age group, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers found that external economic factors were present in 37.5 percent of all suicides in 2010, up from 32.9 percent in 2005.

Additionally, suffocation, a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, increased disproportionately among the middle-aged, the study found.

The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5 percent among those aged 40-64 between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18 percent for those between the ages of 15 and 39 and 27.2 percent for those older than 65, according to the researchers.

“Relative to other age groups, a larger and increasing proportion of middle-aged suicides have circumstances associated with job, financial, or legal distress and are completed using suffocation,” noted study authors Katherine A. Hempstead, Ph.D., director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., and the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, and Julie A. Phillips, Ph.D., of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research in New Brunswick, N.J.

“The sharpest increase in external circumstances appears to be temporally related to the worst years of the Great Recession, consistent with other work showing a link between deteriorating economic conditions and suicide.

“External circumstances also have increased in importance among those aged 65 years. Financial difficulties related to the loss of retirement savings in the stock market crash may explain some of this trend.”

The researchers used data from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), which links information on violent deaths from multiple sources, including medical examiner and coroner reports, toxicology reports, law enforcement records, supplemental homicide reports, and death certificates.

From that data, researchers were able to analyze 17 distinct suicide circumstances and four indicators related to planning and intent.

The suicide circumstances were grouped into three major categories: personal, interpersonal, and external.

Examples of personal circumstances are depressed mood, current treatment for a mental health problem, or alcohol dependence, the researchers explained. Interpersonal circumstances include an intimate partner problem, the death of a friend, or being a victim of intimate partner violence. Examples of external circumstances are a job or financial problem, legal problem, or difficulty in school.

The four planning and intent factors are experiencing a crisis in the past two weeks, leaving a suicide note, disclosing an intent to commit suicide, or a history of prior attempts, the researchers reported.

“Increased awareness is needed that job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and other financial setbacks can be risk factors for suicide,” the researchers warned in the study.

“Human resource departments, employee assistance programs, state and local employment agencies, credit counselors, and others who interact with those in financial distress should improve their ability to recognize people at risk and make referrals.

“Increasing access to crisis counseling and other mental health services on an emergency basis, as is often provided at times of natural disaster, should also be considered in the context of economic crises.”

Source: The American Journal of Preventive Medicine