Although there was a consistent reduction in US suicide rates from 1986 through 1999, the trend appears to have reversed during the most recent investigation period. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 reveals that suicide rates increased by 24% from 1999 to 2014, with the greatest increase observed in the latter half of that period.
The increase occurred among males and females in all age groups from 10-74. While rates for males still exceed those for females, the gap began to narrow during the most recent period. Among females, the rate increase was almost triple that of males: 45% vs 16%.
While the highest suicide rate was observed among men aged 75 and older, there was a reduction of 8% in this group from the previous report. There was a 43% increase among males in the 45-64 age group, making it the group with the greatest rate increase and the second-highest suicide rate among males. The second highest increase (37%) occurred among males aged 10–14, although this group had the lowest rate among all of the age groups.
As with males, the suicide rate also decreased among females in the 75 and over group, by 11%. The steepest increase (200%) occurred among females aged 10-14, though the actual number of suicides in this age group was relatively small (150 in 2014). The females with the highest suicide rates comprised the 45-64 age group, which had the second greatest increase (63%) since the previous period. For females in the age groups of 15-24, 25-44, and 65-74, rate increases ranged from 31% to 53%.
The most common cause of suicide in females was poisoning, which accounted for 34.1% of cases, while the use of firearms accounted for more than half of male suicides (55.4%). Cases involving some form of suffocation–including hanging and strangulation–increased among both males and females.
Though the report does not provide possible explanations for these trends, other recent findings offer clues about a host of variables that could be influencing rates in the middle age brackets in particular, with especially strong support for economic issues as a potential influence. A study published in 2015 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, for example, found that economic and legal problems disproportionately affected adults aged 40-64 who had committed suicide.2 Research reported in 2014 showed a robust link between suicide rates and unemployment rates in adults in middle-aged adults but not other age groups, and according to a 2011 CDC study, suicide rates increased during periods of economic recession and declined during economic growth among people aged 25-64 years.3,4
A co-author of the 2014 and 2015 studies, Julie A. Phillips, PhD, of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University, has received a grant from the American Foundation of Suicide to investigate the numerous variables that could be influencing the trend in middle-aged adults.
Additionally, a randomized controlled trial published in 2016 in PLoS Medicine found promising results with a brief, low-cost treatment designed to address the main risk factor for suicide: previous attempts.5
An approach called the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP) was shown to reduce subsequent attempts by 80% among patients admitted to the emergency department after a suicide attempt.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and visit online at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
1. Curtin SC, Warner M, Hedegaard H. Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. NCHS data brief, no 241. 2016; Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
2. Hempstead KA, Phillips JA. Rising suicide among adults aged 40-64 years: the role of job and financial circumstances. Am J Prev Med. 2015; 48(5):491-500.
3. Phillips JA, Nugent CN. Suicide and the Great Recession of 2007-2009: the role of economic factors in the 50 U.S. states. Social Science & Medicine. 2014; 116:22-31.
4. Luo F, Florence CS, Quispe-Agnoli M, et al. Impact of business cycles on US suicide rates, 1928-2007. Am J Public Health. 2011; 101(6):1139-46.
5. Gysin-Maillart A, Schwab S, Soravia L, Megert M, Michel K. A novel brief therapy for patients who attempt suicide: A 24-months follow-up randomized controlled study of the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP). PLoS Medicine. 2016; 13(3): e1001968.