The trend was most pronounced among white men and women in that age group. Their suicide rate jumped 40 percent between 1999 and 2010. But the rates in younger and older people held steady. And there was little change among middle-aged blacks, Hispanics and most other racial and ethnic groups, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Why did so many middle-aged whites -- that is, those who are 35 to 64 years old -- 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. The economy was in recession from the end of 2007 until mid-2009. Even well afterward, polls showed most Americans remained worried about weak hiring, a depressed housing market and other problems.
Is The Recession To Blame?
There are several theories. Some experts suggest that white baby boomers are just more prone to depression and suicide. Others have blamed the growing sale and abuse of prescription painkillers. And others posit the economy.
Pat Smith, violence-prevention program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the recession -- which hit manufacturing-heavy states particularly hard -- may have pushed already-troubled people over the brink. Being unable to find a job or settling for one with lower pay or prestige could add "that final weight to a whole chain of events," she said.
People ages 35 to 64 account for about 57 percent of suicides in the U.S.
A Rash Of 'Economic Suicides' In Europe
Last year, AOL Jobs reported that there had been an uptick in suicides in Europe, which was being blamed on the economy. A study found that the UK was seeing about 1,000 more suicides a year from 2008 to 2010 than historic trends would have suggested. The researchers also said that the regions that saw the greatest rise in suicides were those that had the largest increases in unemployment. While the authors conceded that a link between unemployment and the rise in suicides is still not conclusive, they also note that a slight decrease in suicides in 2010 coincided with a minor improvement in male employment that year.
In countries like Greece, Portugal and Italy, where unemployment has reached disastrous proportions, most people agree that the economy has been causing a spike in suicides. Greece saw a 40 percent increase in suicides in the first half of 2011 compared to that same period in 2010.
Massive Drug Overdoses In The U.S.
The CDC report contained surprising information about how middle-aged people kill themselves: During the period studied, hangings overtook drug overdoses in that age group, becoming the No. 2 manner of suicide. But guns remained far in the lead and were the instrument of death in nearly half of all suicides among the middle-aged in 2010. (The CDC does not collect gun ownership statistics and did not look at the relationship between suicide rates and the prevalence of firearms.)
For the entire U.S. population, there were 38,350 suicides in 2010, making it the nation's 10th leading cause of death, the CDC said. The overall national suicide rate climbed from 12 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2010. That was a 15 percent increase. For the middle-aged, the rate jumped from about 14 per 100,000 to nearly 18 -- a 28 percent increase. Among whites in that age group, it spiked from about 16 to 22. 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.
Thirty-nine out of 50 states registered a statistically significant increase in suicide rates among the middle-aged. The West and the South had the highest rates. It's not clear why, but one factor may be cultural differences in willingness to seek help during tough times, Simon said.
Also, it may be more difficult to find counseling and mental health services in certain places, he added.
The CDC did not break out suicides of current and former military service members, a tragedy that has been getting increased attention. But a recent Department of Veterans Affairs report concluded that suicides among veterans have been relatively stable in the past decade and that veterans have been a shrinking percentage of suicides nationally.
AOL Jobs contributed to this report.
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