(WASHINGTON) — This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its latest statistics on suicide rates among Americans, finding that the number of middle-aged Americans who took their own lives was up more than 28 percent.
These statistics reversed a longtime demographic trend for the generation born between 1946 and 1964: The suicide rate for people in this group rose by about 30 percent in the decade ending in 2010. The rate for people over 85, formerly the most likely to kill themselves, dropped by 12 percent, according to the CDC.
Analyzing the National Vital Statistics System for mortality data between 1999 and 2010, the CDC said the annual age-adjusted suicide rate among those aged 35 to 64 was 17.6 percent per 100,000. For people ages 45 to 54, the suicide rate was 19.6 per 100,000 in 2010. For people ages 55 to 64, it was 17.5 per 100,000. For the whole population, the national rate was 12.4 per 100,000 in that decade, according to the CDC. The most common mechanisms were suffocation or hanging, poisoning and firearms. Increases were seen among both men and women.
The CDC cites the recent economic downturn, a “cohort effect” among baby boomers who had unusually high suicide rates during their adolescent years, and a rise in intentional overdoses because of increased availability of prescription opioids.
But suicide rates among Vietnam veterans are the highest of any particular group, according to John Draper, project director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Eight million Americans report suicidal thoughts, and 1.1 million will attempt suicide. An estimated 38,000 will succeed in killing themselves, according to the CDC. Most are male, by a four to one margin, and are single and lack a college education.
“Men tend to be more lonely and have a harder time maintaining and replacing relationships than women, especially when they get into middle age,” said Draper. “Men are busy working or tie their relationships to work and when they lose their job, they lose their relationships.”
Those who are less stable in their personal lives are also less stable in the workforce, he said.
“I don’t have all the answers,” said Draper of strategies to prevent suicide. “But we know about suicide prevention and people who are more socially connected and have a sense of belief and self-worth and are valued at work and in their relationships are way more protected and generally happier people.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder and associated mental health problems are to blame for many of the suicides among war veterans, according to Draper.
“The most important thing to remember is we can do something to stop this,” said Draper, noting that communication and support from others can help to prevent suicide.
Since 2001, more than two million service members have been deployed to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost for treating veterans of all eras and conflicts is estimated at $48 billion, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 2007, the VA partnered with SAMHSA to create a dedicated line manned by veterans on the National Suicide Lifeline. The Veterans Crisis Line has fielded more than 250,000 calls a year from veterans and active members of the military, according to Lifeline director Draper.
“It’s a brilliant idea and it’s saved taxpayers money and saved lives,” he said.
Draper said it is too early to see the impact of this collaboration, but predicts that CDC suicide numbers will eventually drop, at least among veterans.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jennifer Graham, Deseret News