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Suicide rates go up for middle-aged, CDC finds

Suicide rates are up alarmingly among middle-aged Americans, according to the latest federal government statistics.

They show a 28 percent rise in suicide rates for people aged 35 to 64 between 1999 and 2010.  Rates for children and younger adults, and people over 65, didn’t change much over the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

“Most suicide research and prevention efforts have focused historically on youth and the elderly. This report’s findings suggest that efforts should also address the needs of middle-aged persons,” CDC researchers wrote in the agency’s weekly report in death and disease.

The CDC didn’t look at why suicides might be up. Other reports have shown a link between bad economic times and suicides, although the American Association for Suicidology denies this. The National Bureau of Economic Research says the U.S. experienced a recession from 2007 to 2009.

But the association says unemployment and home foreclosures -- both of which soared during this time and both of which remain high -- do lead to more suicides.

“The findings in this report suggest it is important for suicide prevention strategies to address the types of stressors that middle-aged Americans might be facing and that can contribute to suicide risk,” said Linda Degutis, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The CDC had already noted a worrying trend for suicides. “Suicide deaths have surpassed deaths from motor vehicle crashes in recent years in the United States. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides,” the CDC’s Nimesh Patel and Scott Kegler wrote in their report.

They teased out the data by age and sex and found a clear trend for people who usually are at the height of career and family responsibilities -- those aged 35 to 64. “Annual suicide rates for this age group increased 28 percent over this period (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010), with particularly high increases among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians and /Alaska Natives,” they wrote.

They also found an increase in three methods of committing suicide: hanging or suffocation, poisoning and guns.

Men are far more likely than women to commit suicide, but suicide rates rose more for women than for men. Suicide rates increased 32 percent for women and 27 percent for men, CDC said.

“The greatest increases in suicide rates were among people aged 50 to 54 years (48 percent) and 55 to 59 years (49 percent),” the CDC said.

The American Association for Suicidology says economic recessions don’t normally affect suicide rates.

“Although US suicide rates did increase slightly during the years of the Great Depression, reaching a peak rate of 17.4/100,000 in 1933, subsequent US recessions have not been found to lead to increased national rates of suicide in the period of or immediately following each recession,” the group says.

The latest numbers suggest suicide rates for middle-aged Americans now surpass the peak during the Depression. And there’s another possible explanation.

“There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide,” the suicidology group says in its statement.

“The peak rate of suicide in 1933 occurred one year after the total US unemployment rate reached 25 percent of the labor force. Similar findings have been documented internationally. At the individual level, unemployed individuals have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed.”

The group also raises concern about the home foreclosure rate. “More than a million people recently have lost their homes, about as many as did in the Great Depression when the population was about half what it is today. For most Americans, our homes are our primary investment and the locus of our identities and social support systems. When combined with the loss of job, home loss has been found to be one of the most common economic strains associated with suicides.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment peaked at 10 percent in 2009. It’s been above 5 percent since 2008 and is currently around 7.6 percent. Home foreclosures have also soared.

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