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Suicide rate among middle-aged Americans rose by 28 per cent in 10 years

Figures from 1999 to 2010 have shown that the trend was most pronounced among white men, whose rate of suicide increased by 40 per cent.

Joan Olsen, left, and her daughter Emily Olsen embrace at the start of the Walk for Suicide Awareness in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Joan and Emily were honoring Chris Olsen, who was Joan's husband and Emily's father.
Joan Olsen, left, and her daughter Emily Olsen embrace at the start of the Walk for Suicide Awareness in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Joan and Emily were honoring Chris Olsen, who was Joan's husband and Emily's father.
Image: AP Photo/Post-Crescent Media, Dan Powers

THE SUICIDE RATE among middle-aged Americans climbed a startling 28 per cent in a decade, a period that included the recession and the mortgage crisis, the US government reported today.

The trend was most pronounced among white men and women in that age group. Their suicide rate jumped 40 per cent between 1999 and 2010.

But the rates in younger and older people did not change. And there was little change among middle-aged blacks, Hispanics and most other racial and ethnic groups.

Why did so many middle-aged whites take their own lives?

One theory suggests the recession caused more emotional trauma in whites, who tend not to have the same kind of church support and extended families that blacks and Hispanics do. Another theory notes that white baby boomers have always had higher rates of depression and suicide, and that has held true as they’ve hit middle age.

“Some of us think we’re facing an upsurge as this generation moves into later life,” said Dr. Eric Caine, a suicide researcher at the University of Rochester.

During the 1999-2010 period, suicide went from the eighth leading cause of death among middle-aged Americans to the fourth, behind cancer, heart disease and accidents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the report, which was based on death certificates. People aged 35 to 64 account for about 57 per cent of suicides.

During the period studied, the suicide rate for whites ages 35 to 64 spiked from about 16 suicides per 100,000 people to 22 per 100,000.

Prevention efforts

Suicide prevention efforts have tended to concentrate on teenagers and the elderly, but research over the past several years has begun to focus on the middle-aged. The new CDC report is being called the first to show how the trend is playing out nationally and to look in depth at the racial and geographic breakdown.

The suicide rate registered a statistically significant increase in 39 out of 50 states. The west had the highest suicide rate.

The economy was in recession from December 2007 until June 2009. Even well afterward, polls showed most Americans remained worried about weak hiring, a depressed housing market and other problems.

Irish helplines:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 201 890
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Read: Suicide resource centre opens in Tralee >

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Associated Press

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