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Suicide among the middle-aged in U.S. climbing up

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Suicide in the United States is usually thought of as a phenomenon affecting the very young or the very old. Young people, with their limited breadth of experience may take their life for a variety of trivial and meaningless things - such as breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The elderly, wracked with pain and illness, usually turn to suicide as a more dignified end. What is alarming is the growth of suicides among the middle-aged in the U.S., those between the ages of 35 and 64. Experts are struggling to find out why.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - One of the factors, some experts believe is due to the easy availability of prescription painkillers. These drugs are frequently used for self-inflicted harm.

The majority of suicides are still committed using firearms, but officials say there has been a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.

The reasons for wending one's life are highly complex. No one can explain with certainty what is behind the rise. Possible explanations, including that as adolescents people in this generation posted higher rates of suicide compared with other generations.

"It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide," the Center for Disease Control's Deputy Director Ileana Arias says. "There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference."

The economic downturn over the past decade may also be a factor. Suicide rates typically rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. "The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period," Dr. Arias said.

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Far more men than women take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

Men in their fifties, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000.

This data is not accurate, researchers say, because suicide rates can be difficult to interpret on account of variations in the way local officials report causes of death. The current numbers are, if anything, too low.

"It's vastly under reported," Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide rates says. "We know we're not counting all suicides."

One of the factors among suicide among the middle-aged is the fact that men and women in that age group are often coping with the stress of caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.

"Their lives are configured a little differently than it has been in the past for that age group," Dr. Arias said. "It may not be that they are more sensitive or that they have a predisposition to suicide, but that they may be dealing with more."

Preliminary research at Rutgers suggests that the risk for suicide is unlikely to abate for future generations. Changes in marriage, social isolation and family roles mean many of the pressures faced by baby boomers will continue in the next generation.

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