Suicide is on the rise for the first time in a decade, and it has a new face: middle-aged, white adults.
The overall U.S. suicide rate rose by 0.7 percent annually between 1999 and 2005 – from 10.5 suicides per 100,000 people to 11 per 100,000 – but the increase was steeper among white men and women ages 40 to 64. Among men in that age group, suicides climbed by 2.7 percent; they rose by 3.9 percent among women of the same age, according to research in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Traditionally, suicide has been a concern for teens, young adults and elderly white men.
"While it would be straightforward to attribute the results to a rise in so-called mid-life crises, recent studies find that middle age is mostly a time of relative security and emotional wellbeing," study author Susan Baker said in a statement. The study, she added, didn't explore why more middle-aged Americans were taking their lives.
A few possibilities: Abuse of prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, which raises the risk of suicide by overdose; decreased use of hormone-replacement therapy after studies linking it to breast cancer that may have led to depression among women who quit or never took the drugs; and anxieties around terrorism following 9/11, experts told the Los Angeles Times. Suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan war vets may also have contributed to the increase, Paula Clayton, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the Chicago Tribune.
The study didn't address whether an increase in anti-depressant prescriptions -- from 154 million prescriptions in 2002 to nearly 170 million in 2005 -- may have contributed to the rise in suicides. The Food and Drug Administration has linked anti-depressant drugs to increased suicidal behavior in teens and young adults.
The means of suicide also changed, according to the study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Injury Research and Policy. Suicide by gun decreased more than 1 percent annually in that seven-year period to account for 52 percent of deaths. Hangings rose by nearly 5 percent, making up 22 percent of suicides, and poisonings increased by nearly 2 percent, totaling 18 percent of deaths. The results are based on data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
"The bottom line is while we can't infer a lot of things about what is causing the trend,” Ian Cook, an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California Los Angeles's David Geffen School of Medicine, told the LA Times. “I think it cries out for better depression screening and treatment."
(Image by iStockphoto/Christine Balderas)