Rates of suicide among middle-aged Americans have risen significantly in the past 10 years, causing concern that a generation of baby boomers who have dealt with a lifetime of economic worry, as well as easy access to prescription pills, may be more susceptible to harming themselves.

The finding came from the CDC’s journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. said:

“Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common. The stories we hear of those who are impacted by suicide are very difficult. This report highlights the need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programs that prevent suicide.”

Suicide deaths have become more common than deaths from motor vehicle crashes over the last few years in the U.S. In 2010, there were approximately 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Researchers from the CDC examined suicide trends among adult Americans aged 35 to 65 by their sex and other demographic features, such as the state they lived in, and mechanism of injury from 1999 to 2010. They used data from the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistic Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).

Yearly suicide rates for this age category rose 28% over this period – from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 17.6% per 100,000 in 2010. Experts saw significantly higher increases among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Elevated suicide rates were also seen among males and females involving the following methods:

  • hanging/suffocation
  • firearms
  • poisoning

The report said the suicide rates for those aged 10 to 34 and those aged 65 and over did not change notably during this time.

Suicide rates among those aged 35 to 64 rose in all states, with statistically significant rises happening in 39 states.

Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control exaplined:

“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.”

  • Suicide rates among 35 to 64 year olds increased 28% (32% – women and 27% – men)
  • The largest increased in suicide rates were among people aged 50 to 54 years (48%) and 55 to 59 years (49%)
  • Suicide rates rose 23% in all four major U.S. regions
  • Suicide rates increased 81% for suffocation/hanging, 14% for poisoning, and 24% for firearms.
  • Hanging/suffocation and firearm were the most common methods of suicide for middle-aged men. Firearm and poisoning were the most common methods of suicide for middle-aged women.

Earlier research normally focused on youth and senior citizens. However, this report suggests that effort should analyze the needs of middle-aged people as well.

Suicide prevention strategies that are recommended include: improving social support and community connectedness. Additionally, bettering access to mental health and preventive services, and decreasing the stigma and barriers linked to asking for help.

A similar report conducted by Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy last year reported similar results suggesting that suicide by hanging/suffocation has doubled in men and women who are middle-aged.

Another report released last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded there is not enough evidence to recommend suicide screening to all U.S. teens and adults.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald