What's Behind Rising Suicide Rates in Middle Age?

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Growing unemployment, financial and legal problems in the 40-64 age bracket may be behind the rise.
Growing unemployment, financial and legal problems in the 40-64 age bracket may be behind the rise.

In the mental health field, it has generally been common knowledge that elderly adults comprise the demographic group at highest risk of suicide. But that appears to be changing, according to studies published over the last five years.

In findings reported in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,1 there was actually a small reduction in suicide rates among older adults between 1999 and 2010. However, rates among middle-aged adults rose significantly during that period. Those between the ages of 35-64 years had a 28% increase, from approximately 14 to 18 suicides per 100,000 people.

There are numerous factors that may be influencing this shift. People in this age bracket face unique challenges based not only on the time period in which they grew up, but also in the way they are currently positioned, so to speak, in terms of historical trends, technological advances and family responsibilities.

Economic factors appear to have a major impact on the trend, including “changes in the nature of employment, the economic recession and rising rates of economic inequality,” Julie A. Phillips, PhD, a sociology professor at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University told Psychiatry Advisor. “Employment has become more tenuous as jobs have been lost and incomes have stagnated.”

A recent study2 that Phillips co-authored determined that circumstances related to employment, financial and legal problems were most common among people who had committed suicide in the age 40-64 bracket. The study, which appeared in the May 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also found that the number of suicides in that age group in which such circumstances were present increased slightly between 2005 and 2010.

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