Suicide Rate Among Middle-Aged Adults Increases By 28 Percent

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control has unearthed a disturbing new trend among middle-aged Americans. The data was complied over a decade, ending in 2010. The results are truly beyond surprising. In 2010, there were 38,000 suicides in the U.S. That’s more than fatal motor vehicle accidents. The largest increase in suicide deaths was among middle-aged adults. 

A 28 percent rise overall, a 40 percent jump among white Americans, and among men in their 50s, suicides increased by more than 48 percent. Guns remained the leading method used in all suicides, followed by poisoning, overdoses and suffocation.

What is behind this trend? That’s what PBS News Hour sought to find out on its May 3 episode. The director of the CDC appeared to shed some light on what the study says. Dr. Thomas Frieden became the director of the CDC in 2009. He reported that they could not pinpoint exactly what was causing the increase in suicides.

He noted the recession and perhaps the realization by those approaching or reaching middle-age that they cannot achieve everything they sought out to. The sad part of the study — notes Frieden — is that the study probably underestimated the scope of the problem. Frieden also cited American’s abuse of prescription drugs as a possible factor, “We have seen an increase of almost 500 percent in deaths from prescription opiates. Some of those are unintentional overdoses and some of those are suicides.”

100 People die from drug overdose everyday:

There were 14,800 deaths from prescription painkillers in 2008:

Drug overdose rates by state, 2008:

Frieden claimed that more people die from prescription opiates than from heroin and cocaine combined. According to a CDC report in 2008, 100 people per die were dying from drug overdoses. That’s more than tripled since 1990. The study Frieden cited said that there has been a 300% increase in the sale of opioid painkillers and those those drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths. The CDC Director also discussed the role of alcohol as a contributor to depression and other mental health issues. 

What can we do to prevent suicide? Frieden says that connectedness to our community helps, but really Frieden charges doctors with the task of better understanding mental health warning signs. If an individual starts discussing feelings of intense anxiety or hurting themselves, while that might not indicate they will kill themselves, it could lead to their doctor providing them with the tools they need to get help. It’s about opening up the conversation and dialogue not only about depression but with feelings of loneliness, abandonment, intense anxiety or fears. 

The cultural stigma regarding mental health illness contributes to the unwillingness of individuals to ask for the help they need. Sometimes, that help is the difference between life and death. Frieden says it best, “Mental health problems are health problems, and health care workers need to address them.”

He is absolutely right about that, we also need to accept that depression doesn’t mean you are less than someone else. No one should be defined by their mental illness, just as no one should be defined by perceived physical limitations.

This is really about treating our mental health and well being the same way we treat our physical health and well being. Prevention matters. So, if you or someone you know is in distress, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.